What is stress and how does it impact your daily life?

What is stress and how does it impact your daily life

Do you feel stressed? Maybe, like many people, you’re so accustomed to it that you hardly notice it. However, it’s impacting your daily life just the same.

Too much time under tension devastates your physical and mental health. It can make you irritable and steal the joy from each day.

Understanding what causes stress and how it impacts your life can inspire you to take action and make positive change.

What are the most common causes of stress in modern life?

According to the American Psychological Association, the top causes of stress vary across life stages. Furthermore, discrimination plays a substantial role, with women, LGBTQIIA+ individuals, and people with disabilities most affected.

Some of the most common stressors that affect everyone include:

  • Personal finances: Such as trouble covering the basics of food and shelter.
  • Conflicts in personal relationships: Including divorce, separation and roommate disputes.
  • Poor health: Including an inability to afford needed healthcare.
  • Work-related causes: Such as overwhelming workloads, conflicts with co-workers, bullying and discrimination.
  • Home and family concerns: Beyond the usual parental worries, such as fears of gun violence in schools.

What are the warning signs you have too much stress?

Stress manifests mentally and physically. Behavioral signs of excess stress include: 

  • Nail biting
  • Teeth grinding
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol or other substance addiction
  • Social withdrawal
  • Neglecting personal care
  • Irritability; being on a hair trigger
  • Rapid and often negative speech
  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little.

How chronic stress affects your body and mind

Unaddressed stress often manifests in your body, spurring physical symptoms. It can also lead to full-blown mental illnesses.

Physical ailments associated with high-stress levels

Unaddressed stress can result in physical pain. When you feel anxious or stressed, your body releases chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol to protect you from danger. However, these can trigger involuntary muscle spasms, resulting in muscular imbalances and chronic pain.

Stress can impact multiple other bodily systems in the following ways:

  • Digestive tract: IBS and worsening flares in those with IBD.
  • Oral health: TMJ, bruxism.
  • Respiratory system: Rapid, shallow breathing and more frequent upper respiratory infections.
  • Cardiovascular system: Increased blood pressure and heart rate, raising heart attack and stroke risks.
  • Endocrine system: Upsetting the balance of various hormones, from insulin to estrogen and testosterone.

The mental health impact of unmanaged stress

Unmanaged stress can billow into full-blown mental disorders like anxiety and depression. For example, it’s common for those who push too hard to develop productivity anxiety — an inability to relax and a feeling of restlessness when they try to care for themselves.

Overwhelmed by guilt about what they ‘should’ be doing, they ignore the signs of burnout until they develop panic attacks, or fall into bed unable to get up and questioning the point of doing so.

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5 healthy methods for managing stress

Now that you understand how stress affects your body and mind, what can you do about it? Here are five tips to tame that tension tiger:

1. Get mindful — and prioritise

Sit down and list what truly matters to you. Then, examine how much time you spend on each activity and seek ways to reprioritise.

For example, you might treasure time with your kids but working long hours creates conflicts. Maybe you can’t quit your high-pressure job today, but making an action plan to find something with better work-life balance alone gives you something to look forward to, easing mental pressure.

2. Schedule time for stress management

You are a human being, not a human ‘doing’.

Stress robs your ability to perform at your peak. Think of stress management as an oil change for the human machine and schedule time for one  of the following activities each day:

  • Walking in nature
  • Indulging in healthy hobbies like gardening or cooking
  • Deep breathing and meditation
  • Yoga.

3. Organise your life

Enormous stress results from being unable to find what you need at the last minute. Create a designated ‘home’ for each essential item — your keys, phone, laptop, backpack — inside your house and place it there without fail each time you enter.

Granted, it takes time and patience to establish this habit. However, the few extra seconds it takes to put things away where you found them can save hours of frantic searching for misplaced items.

4. Establish boundaries

Many people develop the need to please everyone as a trauma response.

While such behaviour can help you endure certain situations, it results in an overwhelming stress load when it becomes your default mode. Learning how to say ‘no’ assertively yet politely is a must-have skill for surviving modern life.

For example, your boss asks you to tackle yet another project when you’re already slammed. Agreeing, then complaining behind their back or doing a lackluster job rains negative repercussions on you, increasing your stress further.

However, saying, “Which project would you like me to push back to address this present need?” shows a willingness to support the business while safeguarding your time and energy.

5. Learn to delegate

Delegation is another must-learn skill — and so is radical acceptance.

For example, make a chore chart if tackling every household task leaves you overwhelmed. If your kids don’t make the bed with military corners, congratulate them on straightening the comforter and fluffing their pillows.

Managing stress for a healthier, happier life

Understanding how stress impacts your mental and physical health spurs you to take action. Remain mindful of how stress manifests in your body and engage in daily management practices.

Remember, you can’t perform at your productive best when running on empty. Treat yourself with as much kindness as you show your car by performing the daily ‘maintenance’ of relaxing and managing your stress levels.

Mia Barnes - Writer - She Defined

Mia Barnes

This article was written by Mia Barnes.

Mia is a freelance writer and researcher who specialises in women’s health and lifestyle. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine.

Follow Mia and Body+Mind on Twitter.