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Your heart starts racing, you feel your muscles tense and you start to sweat a little bit. You’ve felt this before—your body is responding to stress, and your fight-or-flight response has kicked in. Humans are hardwired for this response to help us prepare and protect ourselves from aggressors.
“Typically, when the stressor goes away, our heart rate returns to normal and our muscles relax,” said Nancy Koshy, D.O, Primary Care Physician at Inspira Medical Group Primary Care Haddon Township. “But a constant state of stress can negatively impact your immune system and cause other health issues.”
What Happens When You Feel Stress
When stress strikes, your hypothalamus sends a message to your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol hormones.
Adrenaline is responsible for your racing heart; it also increases your blood pressure and energy. Cortisol, on the other hand, is the body’s main stress hormone, which triggers an increase in blood sugar and controls how your body uses it. It also suppresses inflammation in the body during stress. But if your stress levels, and consequently your cortisol levels, remain high, it can increase inflammation and weaken your immune system.
“Being stressed out all the time can lead to serious health consequences,” said Dr. Koshy. “In addition to weakening your immune system, stress can cause weight gain, problems sleeping, anxiety, depression, muscle tension, heart problems and trouble concentrating.”
Ways to Lower Everyday Stress
Stress is a natural part of life, and how we react to stress impacts how we feel. You may not be able to change events, but you can learn to react to stressful events and manage your stress levels. Here are some tips.
- Get quality sleep. Feeling tired every day can lead to agitation and irritability and make it more difficult to deal with stressful situations.
- Exercise regularly. Moving your body can help you clear your mind. Exercising, whether it’s a brisk mid-day walk or a post-work kickboxing class, releases feel-good endorphins that can improve your mood and leave you feeling more content.
- Practice breathing techniques. When stress hits, focus on your breathing to calm yourself. “Breathing slowly, counting in for four, holding for four and out for eight can trigger your parasympathetic nervous system and leave you feeling better,” said Dr. Koshy.
- Make time for fun. Laughing and taking part in activities you enjoy can also release endorphins and contribute to a positive attitude.
- Seek therapy. Building a relationship with a counselor can help you identify your stress triggers and learn coping mechanisms to reduce stress in your life. “A professional can help you look at your life in new ways and develop behaviors to avoid stress,” said Dr. Koshy.
Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff.