You’ve probably experienced a sleepless night when you have a lot weighing on your mind, or possibly were even more fatigued than usual after a particularly difficult work week. These are just some of the physiological effects that stress can have on your body. Here, we’ll show you a few ways mental pressure can affect your physical health.
Your sleep is a mess.
If you’ve found that your inability to fall asleep quickly—and stay asleep throughout the night—began after you started a stressful job, your sleep problems might be related to those mental and emotional strains. Stress causes hyperarousal, which can upset the balance between sleep and wakefulness, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Make sure you have a calming routine at the end of the day to help you wind down, whether that’s taking a warm bath or hot shower, reading in bed, or doing gentle stretches to help alleviate some of the tension that’s built up throughout the day.
You feel more compelled to stray from your diet.
Anyone who’s ever reached for a high-carb sweet treat or other comfort food when they’re under distress can relate to “stress eating.” But before you blame your lack of willpower, understand that the stress is causing a biological response in your body that increases your appetite and makes you crave certain foods because they release feel-good chemicals in the brain. When you’re anxious and overextended, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which can increase your appetite and block the hunger hormone, ghrelin, that regulates your appetite, says Melissa McCreery, PhD, ACC, psychologist and emotional eating expert in an article on CNN.com. Try to recognize the stress-eating behavior before you actually stick your hand in a snack bag, and instead, clear your head with a brisk walk outside, sip some herbal tea, or at the very least, snack on a piece of fruit or dark chocolate for a better-for-you sweet.
Your exercise routine is falling by the wayside.
When life gets crazy-hectic and you don’t feel like you have any time for yourself, your workout might be the first thing you slash from your schedule in order to “find more time” in your day. That’s a mistake. Getting regular exercise is extremely important for stress management, and just about any type of activity will do. Exercise increases your body’s release of endorphins, neurotransmitters in the brain that make you feel good. Sticking to a regular activity schedule can help reduce anxiety and depression, as well as relax you and increase self confidence, according to MayoClinic.com. If you think your day is too jam-packed for your regular session, squeeze in 5-to-10-minute bursts of activity throughout the day to increase energy levels and clear your head a bit.
Your motivation is waning.
It can be difficult to keep your fitness and weight loss goals front and center in your life when you’re feeling overwhelmed by life’s simple tasks. All of your energy is being focused on your stressors and the pressure you’re experiencing may be causing you to see the world through a negative lens at the moment. Write down everything you have to get done today and the must-do’s for this week, and then cross off anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. You might feel more in control once you see your tasks aren’t as daunting as you’re making them out to be. Then, put a reminder in your calendar to give yourself a non-food reward (like a massage or new workout music) once you’ve gotten through the toughest part of your stressful situation. You may also want to spend a few minutes searching through Pinterest or Instagram for motivational quotes.
You’re fatigued and have no energy.
Chronic stress can cause wear and tear on your body, with potentially long-term harmful effects. Short-term effects that can drain you could be daily headaches or even a compromised immune system. Learning how to better handle stress in a healthy way can make you feel better, improve your overall health, and help prevent you from getting sick. The American Psychological Association found that people in high-stress jobs (like caregivers) had increased mortality, and were more at risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.
To decrease stress and feel more energized right away, take deep breaths and think about something joyful, like a happy moment from a recent vacation or a loved one (even if it’s a pet!) who always makes you smile. Your body will likely relax a bit, tension can disappear, and you’ll feel more energized.