EVERYONE experiences times of stress throughout their life, but people are beginning to realize that long-term stress can cause several health problems.
Though stress is a natural response that the body is equipped to deal with, as we live increasingly hectic lives, our bodies struggle to sustain such high levels of tension.
Family and marriage therapist Alisa Bash, PsyD, LMFT has warned that "chronic stress can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems," she told Verywell.
The therapist from Malibu, California said: "Chronic stress is ongoing and can be caused by factors such as financial problems, relationship issues, or a long-term illness.
"It can cause the body to be in a constant state of arousal, which can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems.”
While your body can manage what is known as "acute stress", the stress before a presentation or being on a rollercoaster for example, however, it is unable to cope with this long-term chronic stress.
During these small bursts of stressful moments, our body will use its flight or fight response to deal with the perceived threat.
Our heart rate will increase, blood pressure goes up, we may breathe more quickly and our muscles tighten.
Following this episode, the body then begins the relaxation process of undoing its stress actions to make the person feel comfortable and safe once again.
Shannon Bennett, PhD, the site clinical director for NewYork-Presbytarian's Youth Anxiety Center said: "Without opportunities to rest and relax and experience a break from stress, it can be really problematic for both our mental health as well as our physical health.”
Bennett noted that individuals will show stress in different ways.
"Some people may experience it in their gut, others in their head - and that may be genetic," she said.
The key to addressing the problems stress can cause is to identify how your own body responds to long-term levels of tension.
According to Bennet, the heart is a key organ that can be impacted by stress due to the changes in heart rate and blood pressure as a result of adrenaline and cortisol.
These changes to the heart are to allow the muscles to function more efficiently if we need to fight or run.
But over a long period of time, experts have warned that it can cause chest pain, heart disease, heart attacks, hypertension, and a higher risk of stroke.
The lungs can also be damaged as a result of episodic and chronic stress causing shortness of breath, rapid or uncontrolled breaking and even asthma attacks, according to Bash.
As Bennett noted, the stomach and gut can also show signs of long-term stress such as stomach pain, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and vomiting.
The digestive system can also increase the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and can cause ulcers, reflux, and increased stomach acid.
Muscle tension particularly in the head, neck, shoulders, and back is a common sign of chronic stress.
When the muscles of the back are tightened for a long period of time, they can cause poor posture and back pain.
In worse scenarios, hernia's, ruptured disks and sciatic nerve pain can also be caused.
Pain can also be felt in the jaw, down the leg and as a headaches.
A stress headache can contribute to insomnia, depression, anxiety, and slothfulness.
Ways to reduce heart rate:
- Drink lots of water
- Relax muscles, especially in the face
- Deep breathing exercises
How to control breathing:
- Slowly breath in and out
- Relax neck and shoulders
- Sit up straight and lean forward
- Stand up
How to help digestive issues due to stress:
- Drink lots of water
- Eat more fiber
How to alleviate neck, back, and shoulder pain resulting from stress:
- Warm compress
- Neck circles
- Shoulder rolls
- Get up and move regularly