Do you ever say to yourself, “I keep thinking things are going to lighten up, but it never seem to happen”? We tend to think of stress as a primarily emotional response to difficult situations, from the woman who feels overwhelmed thinking about the two baby showers she’s committed to throwing this month on top of a demanding work schedule, to the CEO lying awake at night worried over a dip in her company’s stock price. If we believe it’s all in our heads, however, we minimize the real physical impact that stress can have on our bodies. In fact, the American Medical Association has estimated that stress is the root cause of more than 60 percent of all human illness and disease, making it the number-one proxy killer disease today.
In other words, it’s not only normal to be upset by stressful situations, but those physical symptoms you might be experiencing-from headaches to weight gain-are normal, too, and stress may well be the culprit.
In our culture today, being constantly busy with our work, social life, relationships, partner/spouse, kids, lots of errands, classes/meetings, running here and running there is the norm. It’s easy to develop a distorted sense of pride from the stress in our lives. Sure, you may feel like superwoman, tackling problem after problem without complaining and always putting their own needs last. But what if you took a minute to slow down and ask yourself, “Is this really how I want to lead my life long term?”
It’s important to consider how your stress level might be taking a physical toll on you. Here are a few of the problems your body can experience because of stress:
Headaches, dizziness, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, irritability, anger, and panic disorders
Grinding teeth and jaw tension
Increased heart rate, strokes, heart disease, hypertension, Diabetes Type I & 2, and arrhythmias
Weight gain and obesity, which in turn cause many more health risks
Decreased sex drive
Stress-related neck pain (for which women are at greater risk)
Studies have shown that even minor, everyday stress reactions can contribute to premature aging, impaired thinking and decreased energy and effectiveness. So if your plan for dealing with stress is to suffer through it until the situation improves, the project deadline is over, or your long-awaited vacation finally arrives, the damage might already be done. Besides, there are always more stress triggers lurking around the corner, whether it’s an angry client or a last-minute costume your son suddenly needs for the school play.
You can’t prevent stressful situations, but you can change how you respond to them. Try stepping back to take a broader view and brainstorm about alternate solutions; use calming techniques like deep breathing or taking a walk around the block; or simply try and accept that some thing are beyond your control. Healthy attitudes and coping strategies are not only important for your mental health, but they are critical for your short- and long-term physical health, as well.