All of us have experienced stress at one point or another during our lives. When does stress stop being helpful, and start being damaging to our health. I know I’m particularly prone to stressing; all the time and about everything.
Stress (and the negative effects of stress) is something that I battle with constantly. I am always looking for new and more effective ways to deal with my stress (which I’ll share with you in a post later this week). As a mother who also works full time – and long hours – the stress is more than ever.
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to demanding or potentially threatening situations. It is the way that the body mobilizes and prepares itself for an upcoming situation. When our body feels under threat (whether it is an actually life threatening situation, or something simple like a mountain of debt). Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol flood our bodies. This preparation and mobilization is also known as the fight or flight effect.
In short bursts stress can be quite useful; helping you to buckle down and concentrate, giving you energy to complete tasks. Keeping you on your toes and giving you extra strength to defend yourself (like when you need to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident).
Stress related issues are the cause of between 75% – 90% of all Doctor’s office visits, according to WebMD. Stress (and stress related treatments) is already a billion dollar industry in America. The effects of stress on the body, mind and your mood can be vast and varying. This makes it quite difficult to pinpoint the exact origin.
If you are undergoing a prolonged stretch of tension ;like most of us are in this modern day. Your body will begin to take a toll, and the stress will start effecting your health (both mentally and physically).
Here are some of the effects of stress that you could be experiencing:
- Headaches: also known as tension headaches – these are those pesky headaches that start small and get worse as the day goes on. They usually sit on the sides of the head and are sometimes accompanied by a feeling of pressure or even squeezing.
- Muscle Tension/ Muscle Pain: This is most commonly experienced in the neck and shoulder areas and can become quite painful. My parents used to tease me that they could gauge my stress levels by the height of my shoulders, because the more stress I was under the higher up my shoulders would be due to the tension in my shoulder muscles.
- Chest Pain: This is a horrible effect and can be quite painful. I usually experience this effect of stress once my body starts relaxing. At first I had no idea what was causing my chest pains and even had a Doctor’s visit where they told me they had no explanation for the pain as everything looks fine. As time went by and I got older and became more aware of my own body, I realized that I only experienced the chest pains after periods of heavy stress.
- Fatigue: The last thing that a busy mom (or any other busy person for that matter) needs is to feel fatigued, but it happens. And if you’re like me, and at bed by ten in the hopes of getting a good night’s sleep – and you wake up feeling like you’ve had none. Stress can cause this.
- Change in sex drive: This is the reality in any long term relationship – changes in sex drive. It effects all of us, and prolonged can cause a lot of trouble in your relationships. If your libido drops suddenly, evaluate to see if your stress levels might be effecting it, chances are that stress might be the cause, or at least part thereof.
- Stomach upsets/nausea: I am another suffered of stress related nausea – a constant unwell feeling.
- Sleep problems: Another bad one. Sleep is so important for us to remain healthy. And once you become a parent your sleep is also very valuable! It can be debilitating having your sleep effected by stress. I can honestly say that in the last 6 years (since the birth of my daughter) I’ve probably had about 5-7 good night’s sleep (nights where I only woke up once) and the worst part is it’s not even the babies fault! I am lucky and both my babies were (are) good sleepers.
- Cognitive/ Memory problems: This is another horrible one; and yet another one that I have experienced quite often. As a child I used to have an amazing memory – I could remember events from when I was 2 and sometimes even younger. Lately however that is a different story. I would find myself not being able to remember thing that happened a few years back! After relaxing later on, I can all of a sudden remember these events as if they were on instant recall! Talk about infuriating.
These are just a few of the physiological effects of stress. This list doesn’t even begin to cover the emotional effects (anxiety, sadness/depression, pessimism, anger/rage) that can also be caused due to prolonged stress.
As parents we are overloaded with stress – caring for, and worrying about another little life is very demanding and – yes – stressful. And even when you aren’t worrying about your kids. Situations that are not even job related still worry me – bills, grocery shopping, etc.
There is no way (currently) to avoid stress. So we need to learn to identify how our bodies respond to tension. This can be a long process, and you would need to really become in tune with your body. Once we have learned to identify how our bodies respond to stress. Then we can start to work on handling that stress and keep it from effecting us a negative way.
Throughout the years I have learned the following about how I react to stress: first I experience a bit of panic followed by a surge of energy and focus accompanied by nausea. This is when I can handle situations, find solutions to problems and be overall very productive. Then, once this high energy starts to disappear. I would start feeling a small niggling headache and my shoulder and neck muscles would tense up and because of the tension these muscles would hurt (if the stress gets bad enough I can hardly turn my head). Once the situation has passed and my body starts relaxing I get hit with chest pains.