Stress is a phenomenon we all experience in our lives, whether it’s due to exams and deadlines, financial problems, making plans such as organizing a trip or planning a wedding, or being stuck in traffic on the Ring Road every day when you have a million things to do when you get home.
We encounter stressors in our daily life, and while many of them tend to naturally go away quite quickly as we learn to overcome them and move past the difficult situations, others may seem a little tougher to get rid of. Short term stress isn’t a problem; on the contrary, it can even be beneficial by motivating you. However, prolonged stress is not something you want to have lingering around you for too long; for the sake of your peace of mind, of course, but also for the sake of your health. Too much of anything isn’t good, right?
Long Term Effects of Stress on Health
Many studies have shown that stress can indeed affect your health on the long run. I don’t mean to stress you out even more by telling you this, it’s just to let you know that sometimes you may experience physical discomfort without finding a physical reason for it. Well, maybe it’s stress! Doctors are great, but sometimes you don’t need them and you don’t need any pills either. Sometimes, you just need to chill. Easier said than done, of course. However, once you are aware of your stressors and of the fact that they sometimes make you sick, you can work on changing your body’s reaction to them, and avoid the unnecessary situations that make you stressed out in the first place.
Fight-or-Flight? Chronic Stress.
Let me briefly explain the phenomenon. Have you heard of the fight-or-flight response? It’s that instinctive reaction to a threat: basically, you either run, or fight (although I would add that sometimes you may also freeze, as in not do anything at all). Your body goes through physiological changes in reaction to the perceived danger: your brain secretes the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which lead to faster breathing, accelerated heart rate, rising blood pressure, and increased energy. When the threat is gone, your body’s hormone levels will return to baseline and you will move on with your life normally. However, in the modern and hectic society that we live in, we can’t always fight our stressors or run away from them. In fact, running away from all our responsibilities usually doesn’t solve much.
Therefore, the threat often remains, or occurs regularly enough that stress becomes prolonged: this is known as chronic stress. In other words, our body doesn’t return to its usual self, leaving us with an excess amount of cortisol in our system, and that’s when stress can be harmful. Furthermore, cortisol increases the levels of sugar (glucose) in your body to produce the energy enabling you to deal with the stressor.
However, your body tends to disregard its other responsibilities to focus on dealing with the stressor, and therefore suppresses the reproductive, digestive and immune systems, which has negative consequences on our bodies. Research has linked chronic stress to many health concerns such as cardiovascular diseases, headaches, fatigue, diabetes, weight gain, insomnia, and gastrointestinal problems, as well as psychosomatic disorders (bodily symptoms without physical disease) such as chest pains and panic attacks.
You vs Chronic Stress
Finally, now that you know that chronic stress can make you sick, you might want to rethink all the preventable stressful situations that you put yourself in, such as submitting an assignment due 12:00 at 11:59. Of course, there are always going to be inevitable stressors that we cannot escape. Well, there are so many stress reducing techniques, ranging from meditation and sports, to music and dancing.
Unfortunately, there is no universal manual of instruction for overcoming stress because every person is different, but there is always something out there that will make you feel like the child you used to be. Remember… the one that never used to worried about a thing.
I urge you to find it. Find that thing that makes you happy and gives you a sense of freedom, whether it’s heading to Ein Sokhna every other weekend, going kitesurfing in Ras Sudr, or simply going to the café next to your house for a nice authentic shisha.
Find that thing, and do it every single chance you get.