Is Stress Making You Sick? Learn the Symptoms & Ways to De-Stress
Feeling stressed? Learn the causes, symptoms, and ten easy ways to de-stress
Stress is perhaps more common than the common cold, and treatment can feel just as elusive. It is an ailment that affects all of us in different ways during every stage of our lives — whether we’re just tots, worrying about getting a seat next to our pal in the lunchroom, or adults, worrying if we’ll impress the new boss.
No matter how heavily your stress may be weighing on you, don't worry, there are some ways to de-stress right now. It starts with a bit of education on this common enemy, and how to combat it head-on.
What exactly is stress?
Stress is the body's physical response to danger and challenging situations. Stress produces a physical, mental, and emotional response. But, not all stress is dangerous as the body is designed to deal with stress. When under stress, your body will produce cortisol and adrenaline to help you deal with the situation. These hormones can cause us to be more alert, motivated, and even positive. Stress can also be life-saving when in dangerous situations and this is known as the "flight or fight response." During this response you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your pulse quickens, and your brain uses more oxygen to increase activity. This response prepares you to get away and survive the danger you are facing.
So, when is stress bad? The problem and negative effects on the body occur when stress continues with little or no relief. Stress can be defined into two categories: acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute stress is the most common type of stress and includes situations that we are faced with on a daily basis. These are short-term situations that can consist of anything from work deadlines to car accidents, and traumatic events or loss.
Is constant stress over a prolonged period. When suffering from chronic stress, you may also feel as if there is no hope or way out. Chronic stress can stem from trauma, the stress of poverty, and unhappy employment or relationships. It can also be a result of acute stress situations that are not healthily managed. Chronic stress can be harmful as it causes wear and tear on the body resulting in a variety of illnesses including heart disease, obesity, anxiety anxiety, depression and more.
Signs & symptoms of stress
As we have mentioned, stress can affect our body, mind, and behavior. For this reason, symptoms of stress can present in a wide variety of ways from physical ailments to changes in mood, attitude, and behavior. Symptoms and signs you may experience during times/as a result of stress include:
- High Blood Pressure
- Chest Pain
- Memory & Concentration Impairment
- More Likely to Become Ill
- Change in Sex Drive
- Stomach Upset
- Sleep Problems
- Decrease of Appetite
- Weight Change
- Feeling Numb
- Fear or Anxiety about the Future
- Loss of Interest in Normal Activities
- Feeling Powerless
- More Likely To Abuse Drugs & Alcohol
What are stressors & how to identify personal stressors
The best way to resolve any issue is to identify it as explicitly as you can. Finding a solution is much easier when you understand the problem. This applies to stress as well, as your personal stress is precisely that — yours.
To know how stress affects you, you must first know what your stressors are. Stressors are events that trigger a stress response, so ultimately, they are the causes of your stress. These can be broken into two categories: external stressors, stress from situations outside of us, and internal stressors, stress resulting from inside of us. Internal stressors also impact the way we respond to external stressors.
- Major Life Changes
- Financial Difficulty
- Unexpected/Traumatic Events
- Marital/Relationships Problems
- Excessive Worrying
- Uncertainty and Lack of Control
- Expectations and Attitude
How to manage stress
Now that you’ve identified and talked out your stress (at least a little bit, right?), we want to offer some more concrete ways to deal with your unique stress.
Some may find it is easy to de-stress physically. This includes any amount of physical activity that gets your heart rate up and your mind off of your stressor. Hitting the gym, going for a long walk or a run, or playing with a child or pet can work wonders in your journey to de-stressing.
Some may find it is easy to de-stress cognitively. This includes any activity that causes you to use your mind more positively. You can do something creative whether you're artistically inclined or not, like drawing, coloring, sculpting, painting, etc. You can also cook a meal with a loved one or try a new recipe on your own. Some may also find that listening to music or completing crossword or jigsaw puzzles is relaxing to them. You can also kick back with your favorite novel or light read.
Some may find it de-stressing to do a bit of both. This may include more intense bouts of artistry — think Jackson Pollock or joining a heavy-metal band, for example — or doing some other sort of mind/body activity, like choreographed dancing. Dancing in your living room works too.
How to de-stress long-term
De-stressing long-term, especially if you have an ongoing source of stress in your life such as a chronic illness or another issue that impacts your overall psyche, may seem like a pipedream. However, creating specific times for yourself throughout your presumably hectic week can help.
If you are someone who needs to frequent the hospital for treatments or check-ups, this can be unnerving and stressful. Incorporating something positive into or after this experience can improve your mood and calm you. Bringing along a trusted companion, taking the scenic route home afterward, going to see a movie, grabbing a treat, or going on a mini shopping spree may help.
Your healthcare providers are there, after all, to improve your well-being. Hospitals and other care centers are full of eager individuals who are probably just as skilled at listening to your specific concerns as they are at completing procedures. Never hesitate to at least inquire about additional help.
10 ways to de-stress over the weekend
It is rare that we can avoid stress altogether. These ten ways to de-stress will help you deal with acute stress and give you the boost you need to truly enjoy your weekend.
1. Get nostalgic.
Throwing it back to the days of your youth (don’t worry, we think you’ve still got it) can help your stress levels plummet. Do an activity that you used to enjoy as a kid — this will help you remember what it was like before stress was a constant in your life. Go to an amusement park, play a sport or attend a game or match, have a movie marathon of your childhood favorites, or go through some of those boxes you acquired from your parent’s house that you haven’t unpacked in years.
2. Take a mini road-trip.
Is there a bed and breakfast a few towns over that you've been dying to try? A hiking trail that's been calling your name? Pack a quick bag and get away from it all for a weekend. Most likely, you'll be re-energized and have new, creative solutions when you return — not to mention, going for long drives can clear your head.
3. Get involved.
Joining a club, a church or spiritual group, a volunteer organization, or a local athletic league can not only connect you to new, like-minded friends in your area but also help to de-stress you in a significant way. Reach out to your local food bank, animal shelter, Special Olympics chapter, co-ed softball team, etc. Serving others or getting more connected to your community can heighten positive thinking and shrink pesky stress.
4. Be your own pen pal.
If the first few options don't seem feasible this weekend, don't worry, there's a less time-consuming solution. Popping open a journal to reflect on your week or on a daily basis can put problems and stress into perspective. If this sounds daunting or you "hate writing," maybe try to write down one thing each day, such as something you're grateful for or feel proud of. Or, if you're feeling ambitious, heck, start a memoir.
5. Be spontaneous.
Contrived or not, the phrase, “there’s no time like the present,” holds a lot of truth. Go ahead and get a puppy, change your hairstyle, or call up that old friend. Chances are that one of these impulses resonated with you or something similar came to mind. If you’ve been quietly thinking about any of the above, it means that you should loosen your own leash a bit and live a little.
6. Cook your favorite meal.
Afraid of the oven? Only own one pan? No worries. It doesn't have to be fancy, just fun. Taking the time to craft a special meal for yourself from start to finish is an easy way to de-stress — they call it comfort food for a reason. But if you want a big bowl of popcorn or some Easy-Mac, we won't judge.
7. Create a sacred space.
Do you have a difficult time unwinding when you come home from a long day of work? Find a place in or near your home that you can make uniquely yours. Redecorate a spare room or bed nook for optimized relaxation. Buy a new blanket or some throw pillows, candles, or anything to make your space homier and cozier to you. Make sure to keep any ounce of material stress far from it, i.e., don't bring your work laptop or anything entitled "dossier" or "report" into the equation. Don't have room at home? Search for a new coffee shop, restaurant, grocery or farmers market and make it into a routine.
We're talking lists upon lists. If you know that taking work home on the weekend is inevitable, especially if you're still a student, putting off everything until Sunday night may not be the best choice. Take a bit to unwind when you first get home and then break out a pad of paper. Write down everything you have to get accomplished — even the small stuff, like taking out the garbage. Every time you check something off, you'll feel a sense of accomplishment. You could also consider treating Saturday morning as a mini workday if you know you need to study or draft a presentation. This will leave your Sunday free for fun, and your Monday a lot less stressful.
9. Hit the snooze button.
A key to de-stressing is making sure you allow yourself to get enough rest after a hectic week of work. Sleep in for a bit longer, but also try to get to bed at a reasonable hour on weekends too. Sleep deprivation can trigger a variety of ailments, and even make you more susceptible to getting sick.
10. Practice positivity.
Did you just roll your eyes? We know, it’s easier said than done. But, if you have the burden/luxury of a traditional weekend, don’t spend it with stress in the back of your mind — or anywhere in it, for that matter. Try this exercise: for every negative thought you have, replace it with two positive ones. Chances are, you’ll keep up with that trend. Start small and work up to the bigger stuff that’s bogging you down.
Feeling better yet? We hope so. Stress is a normal, frequent part of life. While you may never be truly free from stress, we hope some of these tips can help you manage it on your terms.
If your stress seems to be too much, and you’re feeling particularly gloomy and overwhelmed, there are many available resources out there that are often free, such as hotlines, chatrooms, and counselors.
*If you ever feel as though you are a danger to yourself or others, there is help right at your fingertips. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 911.
Karin is a physician from the Netherlands, where she received her medical training at the University of Groningen and affiliated hospitals University Medical Center Groningen, Ziekenhuisgroep Twente and Isala Klinieken. She spent six months in the Royal Childrens Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, to complete her graduate thesis on gastroparesis. She has an interest in Family Care Medicine and Gastroenterology and a passion for healthcare technology and innovation. Karin has 1.5 years of clinical experience in Internal Medicine and in the Emergency Department. During her training, Karin has been active in many boards, student councils, voluntary work, student teaching and fundraising activities. She currently works at Buoy Health as a senior physician researcher and has been on the Medical Team since 2017.