Do you suffer from high stress levels? If so, don’t make the mistake of ignoring it. Multiple studies have shown that stress can wreak significant physical and emotional havoc on your body. Stress immediately affects your body physically and, if left unmanaged, can become a chronic problem and cause serious long-term issues. Learning to effectively keep your stress levels down has many (surprising) long-term health benefits.
If you’re losing the battle of the bulge, you might be surprised to learn that it could be connected to stress. The hormones released when we’re stressed—which include adrenaline, cortisol, and corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH)—induce a “fight or flight” response. These hormones initially hold back your appetite, but cortisol, which increases appetite, stays present long after the stress has passed. The result is that people who are chronically stressed eat more, thus increasing weight gain. Having lower stress levels keeps the cortisol at bay to prevent stress-induced hunger, allowing for a healthier weight.
Better Sleep Habits
Not getting enough sleep can also cause a slew of health problems. One survey reported that nearly one-third of millennials don’t get enough sleep because they stay up too late stressing about what they need to do tomorrow or what they did not get done that day. Additionally, 45% of adults feel more stressed when they don’t get enough sleep. This creates a vicious cycle of being stressed and not getting enough sleep. Maintaining low stress levels prevents this unhealthy cycle by allowing you to get better sleep at night which, in turn, helps you better manage stress during the day.
Improved Cognitive Function
Are you having a hard time with some of the day’s routine tasks? Studies show that brief periods of stress affect memory and that chronic stress can have detrimental effects on broader cognitive functions. These brief periods of stress result in reversible changes to neurons in the hippocampus. This area of the brain is responsible for emotion, memory, and the nervous system. Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to irreversible loss of neurons in the hippocampus, causing long-term cognitive problems. Learning to manage stress prevents the alteration of these neurons, allowing for better memory, learning ability, and overall cognitive function.
Lower Risk of Heart Disease
While there’s not yet enough research to attribute stress as a direct contributor to heart disease, chronic stress leads to behaviors that increase the risk for heart disease. Chronic stress has been known to result in high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, low physical activity, overeating, and terrible habits like smoking and drinking—all of which increase your risk for heart disease. Effectively managing your stress levels keeps these negative behaviors at bay and reduces your risk for heart disease.
Research shows that there is an inverse relationship between stress and happiness. When one increases, the other decreases. Chronic stress leads to low levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which has been linked to depression. Also, people who are stressed often neglect healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco, and limiting alcohol intake. Practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors helps keep stress levels to a minimum, allowing for healthy levels of hormones in the brain and, thus, an overall happier life.
Keeping Stress Levels Down
So, how do you keep your stress levels under control? Managing stress can be difficult, but there are a number of habits you can practice that will help. These include:
- Exercising regularly. Even a 10-minute walk in the afternoon will help you relax from a stressful day.
- Eating well-balanced meals. Avoid skipping meals and eating heavy, processed foods.
- Getting quality sleep. Your body needs time to reset and recharge.
- Meditating. Taking a few deep breaths throughout the day has been known to help you relax and focus.
- Talking it out. Talking to a friend or family member about your problem gets it off your chest and reduces the overwhelming feeling that leads to stress.
Making these stress-reducing habits a part of your daily approach will take some time. But by doing so, you’ll be able to better manage your daily stress levels and be on your way to living a healthy, stress-free life.