What can stress do to your body?

Did you know that stress is not just harmful for you emotionally but can cause damage to your body physically? Stress on your body can be very harmful. We’re not talking about the stress we all experience here and there when we’re getting ready for a job interview, clearing a near miss car accident, writing a term paper or worried about a mistake we made. This is acute stress and it can actually be healthy for us as it triggers our ‘flight-or-fight’ response and prepares us for future stressful situations.

The stress that we’re talking about that can be harmful for our bodies mentally and physically is episodic acute stress and chronic stress. You can read about the different types of stress in more detail here.

The stress that harms us

These two types of stresses are when our bodies are basically in a constant state of stress. Our flight-or-fight response is always turned on… it’s exhausting! This stress has now become a part of our life and we just accept it as ‘life’. This is not healthy!

This is how I lived for years after my separation, through divorce proceedings, financial hardships and difficult relationships. My body is still paying the price for the chronic stress and me not doing something about it sooner.

How I was harming myself

Being in a continuous stressful environment and not taking care of myself through these times of stress damaged my body mentally, emotionally and physically. Along with my depression, this stress was harming my mind and emotional state. I was losing hope that life could ever be any different and coming to accept that this was life. This is how most people live so why should I be any different?

My body was going into survival mode. When I am stressed, I don’t eat and I move nonstop. I constantly find things to do to keep my mind (& body) going. So my body reserved any food or rest I gave it to keep my organs functioning and my blood moving.

I couldn’t remember things that well and my brain was often foggy. Headaches came almost every day along with digestive problems. I used to be able to stay up late but now if I didn’t get at least 7 hours sleep, I would get sick. Any time I tried working out, I would get sick. One year, I was sick (like a cold) for 3 months straight and almost half of that entire year.

I didn’t see anything wrong with the stress in my life

My mind didn’t realize what all of this stress was doing to my body. I just figured I had been through a lot, was going through a lot and had always been awesome at getting through hard times. “Bring it on!” was usually my mentality. I am a strong woman and can handle a lot but obviously I was hurting myself more than I realized.

My number one concern during these times was taking care of my kids. I didn’t even think about the way I was neglecting myself and my health both physically and mentally. Plus I was familiar with posttraumatic growth (I’ll write more on that soon) so I figured I was becoming stronger emotionally and was growing because of my adversities.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Well, that’s not always the case.

It finally all hit me after this year of being constantly sick. I noticed noticed every little thing made me sick and I could hardly handle the smallest amount of stress without my body (not my mind) breaking down. I knew something was really wrong.

How stress harms your body

Episodic acute stress and chronic stress on your body can leave you with the following symptoms:

  • Lack of energy
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Stomach & digestions issues
  • Frequent colds
  • Chest pain and abnormal heart rhythms (increase risk of heart attacks and strokes)
  • Heartburn
  • Nervousness – shaking, cold or sweaty hand or feet
  • Low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, inconsistent periods
  • High blood sugar

**These along with other symptoms should always be reported to your physician.

If these symptoms continue and you do not do anything about them, you are increasing your risk for a lot of health problems both physically and mentally. This is what I was doing. It also didn’t help that I have had heart problems (peripartumcardiomyopathy and heart arrhythmias) before.

Undoing what stress did to my body

I feel that I have taken years off of my life because I did not take better care of myself during such stressful times in my life. I am also back on my heart medication for a heart arrhythmia.

While I have been working hard over the last couple years to get back on a healthier track, I know that it will take many more years to undo what I’ve allowed stress to do to my body (especially my immune system) and somethings, I will live with the consequences forever.

This is one reason I am so in favor of SELF CARE

Meditation, yoga and mindfulness have helped me to learn how to better manage my stress and decrease my stress levels. I have also worked hard on my emotional intelligence and managing my mental health.

Things I do to manage stress:

  • Meditate
  • Yoga
  • Workout consistently (if I stop & try to restart… I get sick)
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Eat healthy & make sure I’m eating
  • Practice SELF CARE which includes not doing so much! I allow myself to do nothing like watch tv mindlessly without feeling guilty (yes, that took time for me to learn how to do) And check out my Self Care challenge on my Instagram
  • Let things go! I pick my battles… I evaluate what I need to, what I want to and what I can afford to spend my energy on
  • Using essential oils. Read more here how I use essential oils for stress relief.

What works for me, won’t be what works for you. You need to explore, try different things and find what works for you to manage your stress. Stress on your body will be different for all of us but the first and most important step is recognizing what is happening! Recognize that you need to take back control and focus on getting your body and mind healthy.

Book Recommendation: Stress, Coping, and Development, Second Edition: An Integrative Perspective by Carolyn M. Aldwin

If stress is taking over your life, body & mind…

Always check with your physician and or mental health care provider. We can also work together on this through online one-on-one personal life coaching.