June 15, 2006
The Distressing Effects of Worry
There are plenty of things to worry about in our daily lives, from alarming news stories to your family’s well-being to meeting deadlines. Stress is not an uncommon response to life’s challenges. In fact, 75-90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related conditions and symptoms, according to The Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
The body’s response to negative and/or threatening experiences is sometimes referred to as “fight-or-flight” and is an essential survival mechanism in many instances. But over-exposure to stressful situations can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health.
Effects of frequent stress run the gamut—headaches, stomach issues, high blood pressure, chest pains, fatigue, depression, diabetes, obesity, skin conditions, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
In stressful situations, the pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) releases an increased amount of the hormone adrenocorticotropic (ACTH). The ACTH hormone activates the release of other hormones, like cortisone and adrenaline, into the bloodstream. These hormones act to sharpen your focus, provide you with extra strength, and help you quickly react to danger.
Hormones return to normal levels after the situation subsides. However, if these hormones are triggered frequently and over a long period of time, you can be at risk for serious health conditions.
Here are some pointers for re-shaping your lifestyle to avoid stress:
- Reflect/relax: Find an activity that helps you relax, whether it be stretching exercises, quiet pondering, or listening to music.
- Healthy diet: Eat foods like protein, whole grains, and fresh fruit/vegetables, which keep blood-sugar levels consistent. Avoid sugar and caffeine that cause energy spike-and-crash reactions.
- Sleep: Seven to nine hours of sleep per night will restore your body and mind and help you avoid illness.
- Stay active: exercise helps relieve stress and promotes production of endorphin hormones, which improve mood.
- Talk/share: Express your emotions and thoughts to friends or to a therapist. Keep a personal journal.
- Time for yourself: Take the time to engage in a hobby, volunteer, pamper yourself, or just have “me” time.
It is important for us to listen to what our bodies and minds are trying to tell us so we are aware of our stress levels. There are ways to take control of such experiences and tailor our lives to avoid situations that might trigger anxiety.
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