In today’s hectic world – there’s no avoiding it. Stress is a part of our lives, no matter how much we might wish it weren’t.
In some cases, stress can be a positive thing. Stress triggers physical, mental and emotional reactions to situations we experience on a daily basis. It releases hormones, elevates our heart rates and makes us breath a little faster. These help get oxygen to the brain and better equip us to physically, mentally and emotionally handle stressful situations as they arise.
When our stress levels are elevated for only short periods of time – they are not particularly detrimental to our health.
Unfortunately for some of us, our stress levels may remain perpetually elevated – depending on our circumstances and our ability to manage stress productively. When our stress levels remain high without any outlet or form of relief for extended lengths of time it is called chronic stress.
For those of us with fibromyalgia, chronic stress poses a real threat.
For one, we are more prone to chronic stress as our bodies are under constant duress from our symptoms. These symptoms heighten our body’s physical, mental and emotional responses.
Additionally, our illness affects many aspects of our lives. It can impact our social life, career, relationships with families or loved ones, romantic life, etc. As if the symptoms of our illness weren’t enough – this constant barrage of stress from outside factors leaves us all the more vulnerable.
Besides aggravating our fibromyalgia symptoms, chronic stress can lead to additional health problems and ailments. According to WebMD, 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress and 75-90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints . Let's take a look at five potential health problems chronic stress may be contributing to in your life and explore what you can do about it.
Constant stress can result in headaches ranging in severity from mild to debilitating. A common type of headache associated with stress is a tension headache. Tension headaches result in a throbbing pain, typically near the front, top, or side of your head and can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. In severe cases, tension headaches can manifest themselves daily. As you can see in the infographic below, an overwhelming 90% of adults experience tension headaches from stress.
Pain & Body Aches
Stress causes our muscles to tense up. If you suffer from chronic stress – the muscles are constantly tense and don’t get a chance to relax. We often feel this in our back, shoulders and neck. This constant tightening of the muscles leads to increased sensitivity to pain and body aches. It can make movement painful, diminish flexibility and cause joints to become tender.
Elevated Blood Pressure
Another way chronic stress negatively affects the body is by leading to elevated blood pressure. As we already mentioned, stress causes your heart and breathing rates to increase. As the heart rate increases, it pumps more blood into your system. The blood vessels constrict to handle extra load. This constricting of the blood vessels increases your blood pressure.
High blood pressure (hypertension) can have an adverse effect on various systems and organs. Among the health problems associated with high blood pressure are heart disease, stroke, coronary artery disease, heart failure, aneurysm, cognitive impairment, kidney scarring or failure, difficulty sleeping and more.
We all know that stress can wreak havoc on our sleep. Stress has been linked to various sleep disorders including insomnia and sleep deprivation. Stress makes it difficult for the body and mind to relax to a point where it can go through the necessary sleep cycles undisturbed. It can also inhibit your ability to even fall asleep in the first place.
Another very real threat from chronic stress is diabetes. When we are under stress, our livers produce more glucose to help enhance our physical, mental and emotional responses to stress. Any leftover glucose is absorbed back into our system. If we are under constant stress, our bodies may not be able to keep up with the excess blood sugar in our systems. Ultimately, this can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes presents various threats to our health and well-being. Complications associated with type 2 diabetes can include heart and blood vessel disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney damage, foot damage, fatigue and more
Three Tips for Relieving Stress
1 – Meditation
Daily meditation can help train relax the body through focused breathing and train the mind to more effectively handle outside stress factors and distractions. With today’s technology, guided meditation is only an app away! There are a number of guided meditation apps that can help you go from beginner to expert meditator in a matter of weeks. A few of our favorite mediation apps are Headspace, The Mindfulness App and Simply Being.
2 – Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is often associated with meditation – but you don’t have to meditate to practice and enjoy the benefits of deep breathing. Our bodies rely on oxygen to function to their best ability. Deep breathing can help increase oxygen levels in the blood stream, improving blood and oxygen flow to the brain enhancing our mental clarity. Additionally, the longer exhalations used in most deep breathing techniques help relax the body and release pent up tension and stress. Check out the infographic below for a great stress-relieving deep breathing exercise.
3 – Low Impact Exercises
Exercise is one of the most effective forms of stress release. Exercise promotes the production and release of special chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Endorphins act as natural painkillers and can improve our mood or sense of well-being. All of this helps reduce stress and improves our ability to cope with future stresses more productively.
Want a few more strategies for reducing stress in your life? Try one of these 10 Stress Relief Strategies…
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Chronic stress is a very real condition for many people. Those suffering from chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia can be especially susceptible to increased stress levels over extended periods of time. This added stress can both aggravate current symptoms as well as introduce additional health problems. Learning effective strategies for dealing with stress can help safeguard your body and mind from these ill effects.
What stress relieving tactics have been most beneficial for you? Share your tips and advice with us in the comments below or on our Facebook Page.