Stress has a large impact on our lives and affects our physical and mental health, relationships, and performance at work. Stress has such a powerful impact on our physical health that it can even make many health conditions worse.
Stress can exacerbate or cause many serious health problems. Cardiovascular disease has been linked to stress. An eight-year study of 68,000 adults found that those who had consistent amounts of stress, including chronic stress, were more likely to die of cardiovascular disease. A separate study found a 40-60% increase risk of developing coronary heart disease when the individual experienced chronic stress.
Stress also affects our digestive system. A “brain-gut” connection exists that has a double effect – stress causes digestive disorders and certain digestive disorders cause stress. As part of our acute stress response (fight or flight), our body suspends digestion so the body can instead focus its energy on handling the stressor. When there are long periods of stress, the body’s normal digestive functioning is disrupted. This can lead to pain, discomfort, and bloating.
More recent studies have shown relationships between stress and aging. For example, an early study showed that women with chronic stress aged ten years faster on average than women who did not report chronic stress levels in their daily lives.
Our immune system is also affected by stress. It is suggested by the American Psychological Association that higher levels of loneliness are linked to a lower functioning immune system. Individuals who have higher stress levels are more likely to get sick and take longer to recover.
The list of the physical effects of stress goes on, from weight gain to headaches, to diabetes, and insomnia.
Stress also affects our relationships. It can be difficult to have a positive relationship with a person who is chronically stressed. They may show anger, irritation, or frustration towards others, negatively affecting how they speak to and treat other people. A study by Neff and Karney showed that during periods of stress, newlyweds reacted more strongly towards each other, exacerbating their problems even if there weren’t any problems, to begin with. This is because we often blame or become frustrated with others when we are stressed, damaging communication and relationships with others.
Many individuals find most of their stress at work. Deadlines or demanding managers and co-workers can trigger our stress response. Chronic stress can inhibit us from succeeding at work or performing effectively. Stress makes it more difficult to make decisions, be efficient, and not procrastinate on our work. Workplace stress can also exacerbate physical symptoms such as headaches or digestive issues. Mentally, stress at work can cause outbreaks of anger, feelings of helplessness or dread of going into the office.
So, how can we master our stress in order to be healthier both physically and mentally? Here are a few suggestions:
- Maintain a positive attitude
- Use relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga
- Stay active and exercise regularly
- Eat healthy, nutritious meals
- Get enough sleep
- Seek out time for self-care
- Spend quality time with loved ones
- Make time for your own hobbies and interests
- Find ways to better manage your time and schedule
- Seek out the support of a mental health professional if needed
Even though you are remote, make time to connect with others. It may be just a casual phone or video call, or it could be that you have lunch with one of your family members. Get creative on ways you can still have social interaction during this time.
Know the limits of the amount of work you can produce each day. Individuals working from home often work longer hours because it’s harder to shut off or say no when they cannot separate their work and home life. Be assertive but respectful and create the boundaries that you need.
If you are struggling, reach out to a friend, family member, or mental health professional. Remember that you are never alone. During this time, our office is providing telehealth services in order to best serve you. Learn more here.