by: Jomel Bajar, PT,DPT,MS
Stress is normal. When we go to work, when we are behind on assignments, or when we have bills due, we cannot help but feel STRESSED. The thing is: “stress is not all that bad”. Contrary to popular belief, a good amount of stress can, in fact, be good for us. It can be good for our productivity and it can help us get things done. But just like everything else that is too much, too much stress can be dangerous for our minds and bodies.
The idea that all stress is bad for the body is just one of the misconceptions people have about stress. For one, it is not true that stress is the same for everybody. Everyone lives different lives. So, it is only natural that we also get stressed by different things in life. Also, we have our own ways on how to deal with it. Other people solve it by taking a day-off, while some de-stress by talking to a friend. Second, “minor” symptoms of stress like headaches and indigestion should not be ignored. These “minor” symptoms can be warning symptoms that we are not taking care of ourselves well and that we need rest. If we do not take it seriously, these “minor” symptoms can lead to major symptoms that can lead to serious illnesses. Third, stress does not only affect us emotionally, but it affects us physically as well. Usually when we think of stress, we only think of the emotional effects of it. Like when we talk about it, we always associate it with feeling overwhelmed, in deep trouble, or depressed. But rarely do we talk about how stress gives us back pain, stomach pain and other physical symptoms.
Our mind and body are more connected than we think. When we are worried or stressed, our muscles tense up, we experience headaches and stomach problems. On the other hand, when we experience fever or body aches, it causes us distress. How our body responds to stress is one of the greatest examples of the mind and body connection. This only goes to show how stress is not only psychological but is physical as well. Here are other examples of how stress affects our body according to the American Psychology Association: Muscle tissues: When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress. It is the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. With sudden onset of stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, these triggers other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related chronic disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the shoulders, neck, and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress. Lung Function: Stress and strong emotions can present as a respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing, as the airway between the nose and the lungs constricts. For people without respiratory disease, this is generally not a problem as the body can manage the additional work to breathe comfortably. However, psychological stressors can exacerbate breathing problems for people with pre-existing respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Heart Function: Acute stress or stress that is momentary or short-term such as meeting deadlines, being stuck in traffic or suddenly slamming on the brakes to avoid an accident causes an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscle. Chronic stress or stress experienced over a prolonged period, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. Repeated acute stress and persistent chronic stress contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system, hypertension and increase cholesterol. This is one pathway that is thought to tie stress to heart attack and stroke.
Endocrine: When someone perceives a situation to be challenging, threatening, or uncontrollable, the brain initiates a cascade of events that ultimately results in an increase in the production of cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone”, which is attributed to chronic inflammatory diseases if left unchecked. Gastrointestinal: The gut has hundreds of millions of neurons which can function independently and are in constant communication with the brain, thus, explains the ability to feel “butterflies” in the stomach. Stress can affect this brain-gut communication, and may trigger pain, bloating, and other gut discomfort to be felt more easily.
Esophagus: When stressed, individuals may eat much more or much less than usual. More or different foods, or an increase in the use of alcohol or tobacco, can result in heartburn or acid reflux. Stress or exhaustion can also increase the severity of regularly occurring heartburn pain. A rare case of spasms in the esophagus can be set off by intense stress and can be easily mistaken for a heart attack. Stomach: Stress may make pain, bloating, nausea, and other stomach discomfort felt more easily. Vomiting may occur if the stress is severe enough. Furthermore, stress may cause an unnecessary increase or decrease in appetite. Unhealthy diets may in turn deteriorate one’s mood.
It is easy to feel that we would never overcome feeling stressed if we always surround ourselves with it. Being in high levels of stress, limits our ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy our life in general. Unlike what stress makes us believe, we can do something about feeling stressed, and it starts with effective stress management.
Everyone has their own way in managing stress. Some people exercise for the endorphins, while other people organize their planners. Effective stress management is different for everybody, and in finding the right stress management style, we must first acknowledge the major stressors in our life. One way to increase our resistance to stress is to live a balanced and healthy life. We always get reminded to eat healthy, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, but we do not push ourselves enough to do it. Stress is the result of focusing on the wrong things in life. So, for the sake of our health, we should start doing what is right for us and start taking care of ourselves. In dealing with stress, we should also not be afraid to ask for help. Consulting a therapist or joining a support group can help us find ways to cope with our stress. Fesio Wellness Living offers services that can help us reconnect with our senses. Through their assisted stretching and sensory stimulation technique, Fesio aims to make clients feel relaxed, renewed, and rejuvenated. Fesio Wellness Living teaches you to let go of mental noises, enjoy the presence of “now”, and be excited about life.