Unrelenting stress can wear you down mentally, physically
By Barbara Pierce
We all know that stress isn’t good for us. But many of us are so used to being stressed out that it seems normal.
So we don’t do anything about it. We’ve given up. We ignore the signs we’re over-stressed. We’ve accepted that stress is the new normal.
But high stress levels do take a big toll on you — not only on your body, but your brain and mood, in ways you may not be aware of. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away; those stress hormones just simmer and cause damage to your body, brain, mood and relationships.
“Stress causes not only emotional distress but physical distress and ailments,” said Deanna Brady, psychiatric nurse practitioner and owner of Present Tense Psychiatry in Clinton. Her practice provides comprehensive psychiatric care. “Prolonged stress can lead to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, to name just a few,” she said.
You’ve probably heard those things, but you may not know about the toll it takes on you in other ways that Brady described.
If you’re feeling tired, fatigued and sluggish, those could be signs of stress. Days filled with stress keep your stress response system turned on almost nonstop. This dumps stress hormones into your body, which increases your heart rate. That takes a lot of energy and makes you exhausted by the end of the day.
Aches and pains in your body, or frequent headaches, could be caused by stress. Gastrointestinal disorders like stomach pains, diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and acid reflux can be caused by stress. Frequent colds can be another sign you’re overly stressed.
If you’re a poor sleeper — you either can’t get to sleep or don’t want to get out of bed — you may have high levels of stress hormones. This not only decreases the total amount of sleep you get, but compromises the quality of whatever sleep you are getting.
Other signs you may be over-stressed: You’ve started using alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances more; you’re irritable, feel more impatient and on edge; you have trouble making decisions; your memory has fizzled; you’ve become less social and enjoy things less.
End of rope
Here’s how one anonymous person describes it, online: “I’m always so stressed out and I feel trapped. I am exhausted, always in pain, and always feeling tightness in my chest, which is causing problems in my job, love life, and where I live. What can I do to slow things down so I can get some breathing room when I feel like I am at the end of my life?”
“It can feel overwhelming when you’re busy and under a lot of stress,” said Brady.
“People usually try to push through it to get to the end of the stress. That’s the exact opposite of what we should do,” she recommended.
“First, STOP. Just stop whatever you’re doing. Just sit, for five to 10 minutes. Stop and clear your brain,” she advises.
Many recommend breathing to help you stop and clear your brain. “If I feel myself getting stressed, I simply stop for a moment and use one of my breathing techniques. This instantly calms me down and has an immediate effect on my state of mind, allowing me to think clearly and rationally,” said Ben Knights on-line. “It’s such a powerful tool.”
“After you’ve cleared your brain, then you can prioritize what needs to be done and figure out how to continue,” Brady said.
Brady’s tips to prevent a build-up of stress:
— Exercise is a great way to keep the stress hormones away. “My favorite is yoga,” she said. “It allows for breathing and relaxing while giving you a great workout. Even 10 minutes a day is better than none.”
“There are a lot of resources online, especially on YouTube, that allow you to do shorter yoga routines at home as time is an issue for most people. But everybody has 10 minutes a day for themselves; we just don’t always like to take it.”
Also, try to get more regular sleep, she recommended. A sleep schedule helps— same time to bed, same time up every day. Also eat healthy and regularly.
Working with a therapist to sort things out can be very beneficial.
“I think people wait too long to seek professional help,” said Brady. When you recognize that you’re stressed out, it usually means that your level of stress has already escalated. That would be the time to seek help from a professional before your stress gets worse and causes emotional and physical symptoms.
For more information, visit www.presenttensepsychiatry.com.