Stress can be both a positive force and negative force, but either way it affects our health, especially chronic stress we fail to deal with in a constructive way.

There’s a really crucial mindset we’re all guilty of — the mindset that stress and health exist on separate plains.

Or the idea that mental health and physical health have nothing to do with one another.

Bu that belief couldn’t be more wrong.

In fact, thinking this way could be dire to both your mental and physical health.

It’s time we adjusted that mindset by learning more about stress and overall health, and here’s why.

Fight or Flight when it Comes to Stress

Our bodies are hardwired to respond to stress, whether it’s sudden danger or a growing worry of something down the road.

This instinct is called “fight or flight”. When you are placed under enough stress, your brain sends urgent signals to the adrenal glands. Cortisol is then released from your adrenal glands, a hormone that raises your blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

This is useful if you have to respond to the stress by taking physical action, for example: carrying your unconscious family member our of a burning house, running from danger, breaking a car window during an accident, etc.

However, if the stress is of the kind that requires mental or emotional response, all that extra blood sugar and higher blood pressure don’t do you or your heart health any favors.

If you already have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or other heart problems, added mental stress will contribute negatively to physical side effects you might already be dealing with!

Cortisol: A Necessary Evil

We can all agree cortisol (remember, the stress hormone) exists for very useful reasons. Again, if we are having to react physically, or if we experience an “adrenaline rush”, it’s likely that we’ll need higher blood pressure and those extra sugars for increased energy and stamina.

Once again, though, when you’re reacting to something emotionally, cortisol seems to do nothing but trigger unhealthy cravings and fat storage as it spikes your blood sugar and blood pressure.

The best way to combat this is, simply, to know yourself. If you know you’re easily stressed by certain things, be alert and understand your triggers. Why do you suddenly feel as though you could eat a whole pint of ice cream? What is making you stressed? How can you respond in a healthy way instead of giving in to the impulse that cortisol seems to trigger?

Healthy ways to deal with stress include:

  • taking a walk
  • seeing a movie
  • reading a favorite book
  • calling a friend
  • stepping away from the computer
  • hanging out with friends or family
  • concentrate on your breathing

Other Side Effects Of Stress and Your Health

Sleep deprivation – If you live a stressful life, you might be familiar with a lack of sleep.

This is because stress can often trigger “hyperarousal”. This is when you KNOW you need to sleep, your body UNDERSTANDS it is time for sleep, but you just can’t seem to wind down enough to actually fall asleep.

We all know that when we don’t have enough sleep, we don’t have as much mental capacity or energy to live healthy lifestyles. It wears us down emotionally and we’re tired all the time.

Try creating a peaceful sleep atmosphere and developing a bedtime ritual.

Headaches – You’ve heard of tension headaches. Stress can cause headaches brought on by literal and metaphorical tension.

Emotional and mental stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, and fatigue are all culprits of tension headaches and factors brought about by stress.

Skin Flare-Ups – Stress has been known to result in excessive acne, rashes, or hives. This is due to the hormone fluctuation that occurs when your body is under stress.

High blood pressure and heart disease – Researchers have studied the affects of stress as related to heart disease and found individuals that feel stressed out have a higher risk for high blood pressure and heart problems. Stress directly increases the heart rate and blood flow while triggering the release of cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood stream. While stress has not been confirmed as a cause of high blood pressure, scientists continue to study the link between stress and health, including factors related to blood pressure and heart disease.

Related: Read about other factors that can increase your risk for heart disease

What To Do about Stress and Your Health:

You’re stressing hard, but don’t know what to do about it! A good place to start is by doing the little things that are actually big things.

This includes getting an extra hour or two of sleep, and creating a wind-down method before bed. Maybe it’s a warm bath, a cup of tea, or your favorite book. Whatever it is, make sure it’s relaxing and prepares your brain for rest.

Another thing to do is be sure you’re funneling your stress and pointing it in another direction.

Find an activity that takes your mind off things. Many people find exercise or other physical activity allows them to physically “burn off” the stress.

Even activities such as writing in a journal every day, coloring, or singing at the top of your lungs in the car can work as stress relievers.

Finally, have a real conversation with yourself and your family (if that applies) about the current stress in your life and how you can honestly eliminate it or decrease its presence.