Let’s face it — everyone’s stressed.
Thanks to the always-on-the-go, don’t-stop-can’t-stop culture, Americans are feeling the effects of stress more than ever, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America survey. Survey respondents rated their stress level at 5.1 on a scale from 1 to 10, and it’s the first significant increase in 10 years.1
It’s a no-brainer that stress isn’t good for you, but how exactly can it affect your body and how can you help manage it?
How Can Stress Affect You?
Chronic long-term stress may affect your physical and mental health. If left unchecked, stress may contribute to health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, insomnia and a weakened immune system, says the APA.2
Stress can impact your cycle in more ways than one. Stress of any kind can result in a delayed, missed or abnormal period. When we stress, our bodies produce cortisol, which can suppress the function of the hypothalamus, in turn impacting the hormones that manage your cycle.3
Stress may also make you turn to your sweet tooth to take the edge off, especially combined with pesky period cravings. Try turning to a nutrient-rich food, like dark chocolate to satisfy those cravings and kick stress to the curb.
Remember, everyone responds to the effects of stress differently so it’s important to pay attention to the subtle signs that your body may be feeling out-of-sorts. Headaches, a sensitive stomach, a short temper, lack of concentration or the jitters may be some signs to look out for, lists the APA.2
While blowing off steam in the moment may help you de-stress, it’s important to adopt long-term and sustainable solutions.
First, identify what triggers your stress. Is it work-related deadlines? An upcoming family gathering? Having tough conversations with your partner? Once you have an idea of what sets your stress response in motion, you may be better able to manage it.
Exercise has been found to reduce cardiovascular risk factors, and many people often feel better when they workout, notes a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.4 Since technology may be the source of your stress (Overflowing inbox, social media) it’s also a good thing to put away your phone from time to time, especially before bed, suggests research in BMC Psychiatry.5 For some, a good laugh or spending quality time with friends and family may go a long way to mitigating the effects of stress.
While stress may feel like a constant companion in daily life, it’s important to recognize how stress affects your body and brain and find the stress-busting techniques that work for you. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to your doctor. See your physician too before you make any radical diet or lifestyle changes.
The conclusions of the above studies were based on limited sample sizes and you may not exactly fit into the buckets of people observed (everyone is unique, after all!), though this research may give you a good idea of the effects of stress.
- “Many Americans Stressed about Future of our Nation, New APA Stress in America Survey Reveals.” American Psychological Association. February 15, 2017. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/stressed-nation.aspx
- “Understanding Chronic Stress.” American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-chronic-stress.aspx
- Stress and Your Menstrual Period: A Cycle That You Can Break. Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/pms/managing-stress-during-pms.aspx. Accessed June 29, 2018.
- Gerber, Markus, et. al. “Fitness Moderates the Relationship Between Stress and Cardiovascular Risk Factors.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2016 Nov; 48 (11): 2075-2081. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Abstract/2016/11000/Fitness_Moderates_the_Relationship_between_Stress.1.aspx
- Thomée, S, Harenstam, A, Hagberg, M. Computer Use and Stress, Sleep Disturbances, and Symptoms of Depression Among Young Adults – a Prospective Cohort Study. BMC Psychiatry. 2012; 12: 176. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3528646/