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Home > Stress and how to unwind: Janine Roos

Stress and how to unwind: Janine Roos

12 March, 2019

When you’re stressed, the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released. Because of this, your blood pressure and heart rate rise, your breathing quickens, muscles tighten, glucose and fats are released into the bloodstream and the senses and concentration become sharper. It becomes problematic when this condition is sustained for too long. Although stress can be a motivating force, there’s a fine line between good stress with healthy functioning, and distress with exhaustion, burnout and ill health. Today’s world is demanding, and our bodies may be in a heightened state of stress most of the time. Our response to these demands determines our stress levels. 

Here’s a look at how chronic stress can affect your body: 

Your brain 

  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Ongoing negative thoughts 
  • Insomnia 
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 

Your muscles: 

  • Spasms in your neck, back and shoulders resulting in stress headaches 
  • Chronic back pain 

Your lungs: 

  • Rapid shallow breathing (that can bring on panic attacks in those prone to them) 

Your heart: 

  • Increased heart rate 
  • High blood pressure 

Your digestive system: 

  • Stomach pain and ulcers 
  • Nausea 
  • Indigestion 
  • Heartburn 
  • Constipation 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Spastic colon 

Your skin: 

  • Acne 
  • Very dry skin 
  • Cold sores 
  • Eczema and psoriasis flare-ups 

Your bones: 

  • Lower bone density, due to the higher levels of cortisol (a steroid hormone), which increases your chances of developing osteoporosis 

Your immune system: 

  • Recurring infections 
  • Flare-up of auto-immune diseases 

Your sex drive: 

  • Lower libido due to decreased levels of testosterone in men and oestrogen in women 

Your weight: 

  • Weight gain, partly due to poor eating habits when stressed. Cortisol can increase the amount of fat your body stores (especially in the belly area). 

How to unwind 

  • No one can avoid stress altogether, but there are things you can do to handle it better. Acknowledge that you need to prioritise your own wellbeing. If you are overworking (taking on too many responsibilities, taking work home or taking calls at home, being unable to separate from work emotionally), you’ll need to make a conscious decision to make certain changes. 
  • Taking a holiday could be the perfect start to incorporate new habits into your lifestyle. 

 The following can help you unwind: 

  • Cut back on commitments and don’t overschedule your holiday agenda 
  • Limit technologies such as email alerts and cellphone buzzes that keep you in a constant fight-or-flight mode 
  • Take time to read a book or listen to your favourite music 
  • Stick with a healthy daily routine and find a balance between rest and activity 
  • Nurture your body (massage, facials, warm baths, yoga) 
  • Reconnect with family and friends 
  • Pay attention to your sleep schedule 
  • Eat properly and mindfully: don’t skip meals or binge on food or alcohol and steer clear of junk food 
  • Relax or meditate: it lowers blood pressure, slows breathing and relaxes muscles 
  • Spending time in nature and exercise such as hiking stimulates the feel good hormone serotonin

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