Health Advocate Blog

Counter the mind-body effects of stress

From the lingering pandemic and troubling events to hectic work/life challenges, there’s plenty of stress going around these days. Whatever the source, most of us focus on the common emotional signs of stress—we’re tense, moody, restless and overwhelmed. It’s vital to know how your body indicates that you’re stressed and equally important to take measures to manage stress no matter how it shows up. Be alert to the following:

Aching, sore muscles. Stress prompts the output of adrenaline, which triggers ongoing tension, making your head, neck, or even your legs and other muscles rigid and sore. Manage it by getting up to stretch or walk periodically. Excess caffeine can also be a culprit, so try cutting back on your consumption.

Getting more colds than usual. Stress can run down your immune system. Bolster it by getting sound sleep, drinking plenty of water and eating nutrient-dense foods. Remember to use good hygiene—regular handwashing, avoid sharing food and utensils, and use hand sanitizers. Maintain your distance or wear a mask if you need to visit someone who has a cold or flu, and be sure to get a flu shot as fall approaches.

Your digestive system has gone haywire. Heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, GERD or other tummy troubles can be triggered by stress-induced stomach acid production. Avoid known stomach irritants such as alcohol, coffee, spicy foods and mints. Treat mild symptoms with antacids and other over-the-counter medications. Soothe yourself with deep-breathing exercises, walking and other enjoyable physical activities.

Lost sleep. Excessive worrying prior to bedtime can boost adrenaline levels, keeping you tossing and turning. Stash troubling thoughts in a worry journal, and try a relaxing wind-down routine that includes meditation or focusing on pleasant thoughts to usher you into deep slumber.

Troubled skin or hair. Stress can stimulate inflammatory skin cells that contribute to dryness, itchiness, and hair loss, and can also prompt flare-ups of acne, eczema, psoriasis and other existing skin conditions. Again, stick to nutritious eating, exercise, and try meditation or other mind-body therapies, which may help regulate the stress hormones with positive effects for skin and hair.

Other effects and what to do. Stress may also be at play if you’re overeating, drinking more alcohol, experiencing a low sex drive or have irregular periods.  Talk to your health practitioner and/or seek help from a qualified counselor for help with stress management strategies.