By Ryan Aliapoulios,
More people would agree that contemporary life is pretty stressful.
If we’re young and single and living in the city, we’re trying to make ends meet and probably working intense hours. If we’re a little older, we may be dealing with the stresses of debt and the pressure to start a family. Older still and you have children and you’re saving for them to go to college. Regardless of your circumstances, stress is only helpful up to a certain point. After that, it begins to hurt our bodies and wear us down.
According to the Miami Herald, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.
But before you panic, stress isn’t necessarily a death sentence—but it does help to look out for some signs. If you can recognize the signs of stress, you can take action to fix these issues.
On that note, here are the ways chronic stress attacks our seven body systems—and how we can fight back.
1. The Nervous System
The nervous system is responsible for the communication of signals and sensations throughout the body and is the driving force behind keeping us conscious and alive. It is also responsible for controlling many other systems in our body including our heartbeat, our breath, our hormones and more. When we’re in a stressed out state of mind, we tense up—and can stay that way. This can lead to chronic headaches, social isolation, difficulty concentrating and more.
To fight back, make a conscious effort to have some fun by scheduling time to do things you enjoy. Meditation and focusing on slow, deep breathing can also all release tension.
2. The Musculoskeletal System
When we talk about the body, this is often the system we’re talking about. As the name suggests, this is the actual hardware of your body—the muscles, the bones and the things keeping them together. Chronic stress can take a toll here as well in the form of weight gain, neck and back aches and jaw clenching.
To work against this, try to use your body in healthy ways. If you frequently work at a desk, get up and take breaks throughout the day. Start the day with stretching and take up a yoga practice. Going for a midday walk or even spending a little money on a massage can also go a long way.
3. The Respiratory System
As all these systems are interconnected, the respiratory system is also hit hard by stress. Those suffering from this may notice they are breathing either too hard—or they feel like they can’t breathe deeply enough. They may also feel a tightness in their chest or a sense of anxiety, sometimes even leading to panic attacks.
As a preliminary step, our breathing can sometimes be hurt simply by our bad posture and our negative thoughts. Make an extra effort to keep good posture in your mind throughout the day. Sit up straight and keep your chest open. Deep breathing exercises are also good here, with a special focus on breathing from the gut rather than from the chest.
4. The Cardiovascular System
This system is most concerned with blood flow and how our hearts function. Needless to say, heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. Essentially, the cardiovascular system works extra hard in times of extreme stress or surprise—our body signals our heart to beat faster, which over time can lead to inflammation and even heart attack.
Although all the above breathing and relaxation techniques apply here as well, diet is also something worth looking into. If you’re eating an unbalanced diet high in saturated and trans fats, you may want to cut back. Instead, the Mayo Clinic advises us to eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and cut back on sodium. Caffeine and nicotine can also add unnecessary stress to our hearts!
5. The Endocrine System
This system often goes unconsidered in spite of how important it is. The endocrine system is responsible for the workings of our liver and adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands lead to the production of cortisol and epinephrine, stress hormones which in turn cause the liver to produce more glucose. The idea is to give us more energy in “fight or flight” situations—but it’s not helpful in most situations where such an intense response isn’t necessary.
Once again, the solution here is connected to all the other systems. Any efforts to generally relax will help your endocrine system work better, though it can also be boosted by reducing the stress on your liver. That means cutting down on our intake of alcohol and other substances! Moreover, try to eat less junk food that will spike your blood sugar levels and cut back on dairy, which is often packed full of harmful hormones.
6. The Gastrointestinal System
Here we’re talking about the gut and the digestion, all of which can be hurt by chronic stress. Some possible symptoms could include stomach aches, acid reflux and fluctuations in appetite. Fortunately, there are solutions.
To help with digestion, consider eating more fiber and vegetables, stay hydrated and eat leaner foods (and less sugar). More importantly, start working on your probiotic intake to seed healthy gut bacteria. Did you know that healthy gut bacteria has a huge effecton mental health? Work on the gut to work on your stress levels!
7. The Reproductive System
Last but not least, the reproductive system is important when it comes to having a healthy and fulfilling sex life and for having children. In men, chronic stress could lead to erectile dysfunction and infertility; in women, it can cause similar difficulties with arousal and difficulty conceiving.
All the above methods apply here as well, perhaps none more than exercise. Often, the health and functionality of our private parts is a direct reflection of our health overall. Exercise and weight lifting leads to the production of sex hormones in men and women alike, both of which can help things go more smoothly in the bedroom. Above all, relaxing and taking care of health will help this fall in line. If it doesn’t, consider seeing a specialist as well!
Please SHARE this with your friends and family.
Ryan Aliapoulios is a contributing writer at Shareably based out of Los Angeles. Find him on Twitter @rollyops.