What is stress?

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension caused by something in your life. It can make you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. Your body reacts to stress as a way of coping with challenges and demands. Stress is highly individual – one person’s stress is another’s fuel, some people thrive on working as a member of a team, whilst for others, it demands a huge effort on their part since they work better alone or are intensely shy.

What happens to the body during stress?

Our bodies are built and designed to handle stress in small doses. When stress becomes long-term or chronic, this is when it can start to have a serious effect on the body.

Musculoskeletal system

When the body goes into a state of stress, muscles start to tense up. Muscle tension occurs as a reflex action to stress. This is our body’s way of protecting us against injury and pain.

When stress occurs suddenly, the muscles tense up at once and then release when the stress has left the body. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a constant state of protection. Being in this state for long periods of time can lead to stress-related disorders for example migraines and chronic pain in the shoulder, lower and upper back.

Incorporating relaxation techniques and therapies into our daily lives can help reduce muscle tension and decrease stress-related disorders such as headaches and muscle pain.

Respiratory system

The role of the respiratory system is to supply oxygen to cells and remove carbon dioxide waste from the body. This occurs by air coming in through the nose and going through the larynx in the throat, down through the trachea, and into the lungs through the bronchi.

Stress on the body can affect breathing and cause individuals with respiratory disease to struggle to breathe efficiently. Acute stress can possibly bring on an asthma attack for people who suffer from asthma. Working on relaxation techniques, breathing, and other cognitive behavioral strategies can help reduce this risk.

Cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system consists of the heart and blood vessels that work together to provide oxygen and nourishment to the organs in the body.

Acute stress can cause the heart rate to increase and for the heart to dilate, thereby increasing the amount of blood pumped to these parts of the body and elevating blood pressure.

The body being in a constant state of chronic stress can result in long-term problems for the blood vessels and heart. It can also affect cholesterol levels. Handling stress well and equipping yourself with the correct tools to decrease stress levels will contribute to a healthy heart.

How to reduce stress?

Coping with stress on a daily basis can be tiring and weigh heavily on a person’s overall wellbeing. Here are some useful tips to help reduce stress:

  1. A good sleep routine –get in the habit of waking up and falling asleep at the same time every day. Limit technology usage before bed because the blue light from your screens affects the hormones that help regulate your circadian rhythm (your ‘internal clock’).
  2. Eat regularly and healthy –follow the World Health Organization recommended guidelinesor talk to a nutritionist about a healthy diet that suits your lifestyle.
  3. Exercise daily –the World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise throughout the week.
  4. Practice mindfulness –a great way to help us remain focused on the present moment and be non-judgmental towards our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
  5. Engage in a daily self-care routine –do one small thing every day as self-care and this will help you manage difficult emotions that arise throughout the day.

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