Nobody likes stress. We’d all just as well live without it if given the choice. But it’s not all that easy to avoid. Our modern culture is plagued by stress. Even in retirement, seniors worried about health or financial issues are likely to experience stress. And caregivers of seniors are especially prone to high levels of stress.
At the risk of giving you one more thing to worry about (sorry!), stress isn’t just unpleasant. It can be extremely harmful to your health.
43% of adults have experienced the negative health effects of stress. And a whopping 75-90% of doctor’s visits are believed to be related to stress.
Ways Stress Is Physically Bad for YouWe all know that smoking and junk food are bad for us, but fewer of us think about the toll stress takes on our bodies.
Short-Term Effects of StressSmall bouts of stress – things like a hard day at work, impatience sitting in traffic, or the stress of running to the hospital with a loved one having a health emergency – cause a whole slew of problems.
- Digestive issues – This can take a range of forms. Stress eating – grabbing at junk food when you’re feeling stressed out – can cause health and digestive issues. On the other extreme, stress can cause people to lose their appetites and not eat enough. And stress can also lead to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), which means you don’t digest what you do eat effectively.
- Breakouts and rashes – Stress can cause acne breakouts, hives, and rashes.
- Loss of hair – On top of the effects on your skin, stress can make your hair fall out.
- Headaches – Lots of people know the experience of a stress headache. At the moment when we feel we need our brain most, it punishes us for working too hard.
- High blood pressure – Stress is frequently a contributing factor in high blood pressure, which causes its own share of health problems.
- High blood sugar – For anyone with diabetes, the increase in blood sugar that comes with stress is a particular concern.
- Trouble sleeping – Many people have had the experience of a sleepless night while awaiting something they’re nervous about the next day. It’s just one more problem stress causes.
- Makes asthma worse – For anyone with trouble breathing, it can cause more frequent or severe asthma attacks.
There’s not one thing on that list your life wouldn’t be better off without.
Long-Term Effects of Chronic StressThe short-term effects of stress are bad enough, but if you experience ongoing stress for a long period of time, your risks become even more serious.
- Heart disease – Having high blood pressure over a long period of time vastly increases your risk of serious heart disease. Stress could end up eventually causing a heart attack or stroke.
- Cancer – While the research is still inconclusive on stress causing cancer, it can make your body’s reaction to cancer worse, causing cancerous tumors to grow faster and cancerous cells to spread further.
- Weak immune system – A weakened immune system increases your risk of just about every disease, virus, or sickness out there. If your body undergoes serious stress for too long, it will have a much harder time fighting off sickness.
7 Realistic Ways to Reduce Your StressNow that we’ve given you plenty more to stress out about (again, sorry), you should take a deep breath and know that you have more control over the stress in your life than you may think.
You probably can’t eliminate the factors that cause stress, but you can work on techniques to manage the stress and reduce it when it arises.
Visit a therapist.Therapists are specifically trained to help you work through anything in your life causing you stress or other emotional trauma. A good therapist will equip you with techniques to deal with stress more effectively as it arises.
Meditate.Meditation has been proven to help reduce stress. It’s not too hard, it just requires a small time commitment, even just 10 minutes a day. You can find videos and a number of apps to help you learn the basics.
Exercise.You’ve heard recommendations to exercise more than a hundred times, for more than a hundred different reasons, but here’s one more. Research has found that physical activity has a noted effect on reducing stress levels.
Do yoga.One particular type of exercise has especially earned a reputation for helping to reduce stress. Yoga is both good for helping the body learn to respond to stress more effectively and fighting a lot of those pesky short-term effects of stress we mentioned before. It can bring your blood pressure down, lower your heart rate, and ease breathing issues. And it has a general positive effect on overall mood.
Schedule you-time into your day. Caregivers should especially take advantage of this advice. If you’re spending your days constantly devoted to taking care of others, you run the risk of forgetting to take care of yourself. Start scheduling time into your days for something you like to do or find relaxing. Maybe it’s one of the things on this list, like yoga, maybe it’s time in front of the TV or long walks in the morning. It’s up to you, just make sure it happens.
React to anger by walking away.Anger’s not the only emotion that fuels stress, but it’s a significant one. Train yourself to respond to anger by taking a minute to cool off. Don’t yell. Don’t let it build. Take some deep breaths and let your heart rate slow before you face whatever it is that’s making you angry.
Find your support network. Having people around who support you is crucial for so many things, but it can make it easier to take some of the load off when you’re feeling stress. Whether it’s because you have people around to ask for help, or because you have someone who’s willing to listen to you complain and get it all out when it gets to be too much. Make sure that whatever else you do, you make room in your life for the people you care about and can count on.
For caregivers facing more stress than you feel like you can handle on your own, consider if it’s time to call in some extra help. In-home care reduces the burden placed on family members and loved ones. Many families hesitate because they feel it’s somehow wrong to pay for care they think they’re morally obligated to provide themselves, but if you take a serious look at the effect that caregiver stress is having on you and your family, you may find the cost of some extra help is well worth it.