The stress response is necessary. It improves your ability to process information and concentrate. It raises blood sugar to give you energy to respond, and it motivates you to succeed.
The trouble is that those effects are usually helpful and healthy only in response to single events, or short-term, or acute, stress. High levels of chronic stress, or stress that continues day after day, week after week, and possibly for months or years, can cause unhealthy effects.
Stress is never going to go away completely, since we all face stressors such as needing to pay bills, build relationships with people, manage health conditions, and make important decisions, for example.
The trick to keeping stress healthy is to manage it, but is it really worth it? Yes! Stress management can take time and practice, but as the Lark DPP check-in mentioned, the rewards are great. When you do, you can expect some important and far-reaching benefits, such as the following.
- Fewer headaches. Stress headaches or tension headaches can cause dull, aching pain or a feeling of pressure in your forehead. They can be severe enough to feel similar to migraines, and can make you more sensitive to pain in other parts of your body. Tension headaches tend to become less severe and frequent when you learn how to relax or manage stress.
- Less joint pain. While stress does not directly injure your joints, it can potentially make them hurt for a few reasons. Stress increases inflammation, making your joints stiffer and more swollen. Severe panic attacks can make you more tense and increase your likelihood of sitting in awkward positions or reduce your ability to exercise. Manage stress, and you just may notice your joints performing better. Ice packs and physical activity can help, too.
- Better sleep. Guess what: lying awake at night, worrying, does not help you get adequate sleep! When you are able to clear your head during the day and especially before bed, you can expect to fall asleep faster and wake up less often overnight.
- Less indigestion. Digestion is a complicated, multi-step process, and stress interferes with nearly every part of it. When overly stressed, you might notice difficulty swallowing due to esophageal spasms, an upset stomach due to more stomach acid, stomach pain due to decreased blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, or diarrhea or constipation. Along with general stress management techniques, emphasizing slower eating and nutrient-rich foods can help.
- Easier weight loss. Stress can cause weight gain in many ways. If you are one of the many, many people who are stress or emotional eaters, you may already have noticed that feelings of stress or anxiety lead you to eat when you are not truly hungry. Eating when you are not hungry is already a risk factor for weight gain, and worse, stress eating usually involves high-calorie foods, such as fried, sugary, or starchy foods. To top it all off, stress hormones tend to increase appetite and fat storage. Take a breath (or five) and go for a walk instead of diving for the pizza, and you may notice that controlling your weight is easier.
- Better nutrition. Those fried, sugar, and starchy foods mentioned above are not typically nutritional powerhouses. When you are stressed, comfort foods such as pizza, ice cream, brownies, and mac and cheese can take the place of foods with more nutrients such as protein, fiber, and antioxidants. When you manage stress and make better food choices, you may get more vitamins and minerals, which in turn can reduce stress further.
- Improved hormone balance. Stress messes with your hormones. For example, it raises adrenaline, leading to increased heart rate, and cortisol, which changes the immune response and other systems. A hunger-promoting hormone called ghrelin tends to increase, while a satiation hormone called leptin tends to decrease with stress. Manage your stress, and your body may feel more in tune.
- Lower blood pressure. Stress raises blood pressure as the stress response increases oxygen to your body to get you ready to attack or flee (at least, if you are coming face to face with a bear). Manage stress, and your blood pressure may drop as your blood vessels relax. With lower blood pressure comes lower risk for kidney disease, stroke, and heart attack. You can further lower blood pressure by exercising and choosing a lower-sodium diet.
- Fewer colds. In the short-term, the stress response boosts your immune system. Long-term, not so much. Having your body on chronic overdrive can lead to a weaker immune system and more infections. You may notice that you catch more colds than you used to. Get your stress under control and you may find yourself taking fewer sick days.
- Lower blood sugar. Part of the stress response is to mobilize resources so you can act quickly. In other words, your blood sugar rises. If blood sugar stays high for too long, your risk for diabetes increases. When you manage your stress, your blood sugar levels decrease and your insulin responsiveness increases.
Hopefully by now you agree that managing stress is important for well-being. You can get more motivation to manage stress, plus ways to manage it, when you use Lark DPP regularly.