Stress is not a unique experience. We can all recall moments in our life where we felt completely and utterly overwhelmed and anxious. Whether those moments involved being yelled at by another person, pushing to get more done than you had time for, cramming for an exam, or even running late for a really important appointment- whatever the situation was, you would have realized that stress is not only mentally exhausting, but it also has a distinctive physical reaction that ripples throughout your entire body. Your heart rate increases, you break out in a sweat, your stomach may feel uneasy, your hands begin to shake, your mouth becomes dry, your breathing becomes shallow and you can feel the panic rising, gripping your throat. At that moment you may either feel compelled to run and hide until the moment is over, to fight whatever is in your way, or simply, you may freeze on the spot, unable to respond or react.
However, a stressful day here and there isn’t a big deal, and believe it or not, not all stress is bad. In fact, it can be rather beneficial, for example, competing in competitive sports games, or giving a presentation in a meeting. Your body’s physical reaction to these types of anxiety or stress-induced situations may actually give you a short-term burst of energy, motivation, and intense focus that could ultimately enhance your performance.
Chronic stress and anxiety, however, are a different story altogether. If you’re one of those individuals who spend most of your life in a state of stress and anxiety, being constantly pushed to your limits, the biological impact can spell trouble. Think of a rubber band that is being stretched further and further, you instinctively know that if you do not release that tension at some point, the band will snap. People who are dealing with ongoing, chronic stress and anxiety are like that rubber band. Placed under continued mental or physical stress, a person will eventually ‘snap’.
Even if you think you’re handling your stress well, your body could be telling a different story. Here are 5 warning signs that your body may be taking strain from chronic stress and anxiety.
When your brain detects a stressful situation, it signals to your body to release the stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol, which prepare your body for instant action. However, high levels of cortisol over long periods of time can cause serious damage to your brain. As levels of cortisol rise, it leads to fewer new brain cells being made in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and memories.
That’s not all though, too much of this stress hormone also creates a deficiency of synaptic connections between neurons, resulting in the shrinking of your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that regulates behaviors such as problem-solving, judgment, and impulse control.
To put it simply – cortisol can literally cause your brain to shrink in size. That is why many people that are struggling with chronic stress and anxiety find that they have trouble concentrating and notice a decline in their short-term memory. Chronic stress makes it harder for a person to learn and remember things and very possibly sets the stage for more serious mental problems, such as severe depression or even Alzheimer’s disease.
2. STOMACH PROBLEMS
Stomach ailments are one of the most common symptoms of ongoing stress and anxiety. Like the brain, the gut has its own network of neurons, and the two are constantly communicating. So when you are faced with a threatening situation, the stress response in your brain, as well as your gut, is triggered, which significantly impacts the way in which your body controls digestion. This creates a physical reaction which is why, for instance, when faced with a stressful situation, many people experience stomach cramps and/or have a sudden urge to run to the loo. Your body literally speeds up digestion so that you can empty the bowels making you light, faster, and better equipped to deal with the threat.
Most digestive processes take place while the body is in a calm or resting state, so when your body is in a constant state of stress, it disturbs the natural course of digestion which increases your risk of stomach disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, stomach ulcers, chronic diarrhea, constipation and more.
3. TROUBLE SLEEPING
Considering that your body’s stress response is designed to protect you by keeping you in a heightened state of alertness, ready to react to whatever threat that may present itself at any given time, it is understandable that you will have difficulty mentally switch off at bedtime. No matter how tired and utterly exhausted you may feel, the moment you lay your head on the pillow, your mind starts racing at 100 miles per hour, and when you do eventually fall asleep, it may not even be a calm night’s sleep as it is common to experience chaotic or busy dreams. On top of that, being in a heightened state of awareness means that you will probably be a light sleeper and wake up to every small sound.
Unfortunately, this becomes a perpetuating cycle. Anxiety leads to lack of sleep, which leads to more stress on the mind and body, which makes it difficult to sleep, and on it goes. Ultimately, the ongoing strain of sleep deprivation can lead to serious physical problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart attack, as well as mental problems such as depression, severe mood swings, and even hallucinations.
4. MENTAL AND PHYSICAL FATIGUE
It stands to reason that the lack of sleep as well as the continuous physical and mental strain that your body is under due to the constant influx of stress hormones, putting you in a persistent state of tension and alertness, leaves a person well and truly exhausted. You may not have the emotional reserves to deal with the everyday disruptions and so you become easily agitated and irritable and feel completely unmotivated and even overwhelmed by seemingly trivial tasks.
You may experience feelings of hopelessness and that you have absolutely no power over what happens in your life, which is why chronic stress and anxiety is often linked to depression.
When your body is triggered into a fight or flight response, your heart rate increases rapidly which pumps blood to your organs and muscles to ensure they have enough oxygen and are ready for action. Breathing quickly helps maximize this process. The problem is when you overexert this response, the lungs don’t have time to draw in the required oxygen before you exhale, which means you exhale more than you inhale. This causes a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide levels, which narrows the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, leading to symptoms such as feeling short of breath, dizzy, lightheadedness, and even tingling in the fingers.
This experience often creates even more anxiety, leading to a full-blown panic attack, possibly accompanied by hyperventilation. This places immense strain on the nervous system and may even result in the person losing consciousness.
Nevertheless, it’s not all bad news, though. Despite what you may have heard or have been lead to believe, chronic anxiety, stress, and even depression do not need to be a life sentence and can be overcome without years of therapy.
If you or someone you know may be struggling and desperately wants to be free from stress and anxiety, there is hope. With a combination of scientifically proven methods that have helped countless individuals successfully overcome years of debilitating stress, anxiety, PTSD, and depression, it is possible to break loose from this mental weight that holds you down. You do not have to live in a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion any longer.
It is possible to reach a place of calm and confidence where you are able to breathe again. THUS, THERE IS HOPE.
If you are interested in learning more about how to genuinely overcome anxiety and
depression, please check out the links below.