Stress seems to be the culprit for everything these days, from hair loss to infertility but how does stress affect your health? It does seem strange to some that a “mental” issue can affect your body and health, but to those who know about the body-mind connection, this seems quite obvious.

There are many ways that your mind affects your body and vice versa. Think about the experiment with the lemon. Haven’t heard about it? Okay, let’s try it. I want you to imagine a lemon, look at the color, touch the rind, and smell it. Now imagine that you’re cutting the lemon into slices. You can smell the lemon; a bit of juice oozes out of the slices as you cut them. Now imagine that you’re picking up a slice and take a bite. Taste the tart, sour flavour. Now, I’m no word magician, but I’m sure that for many of you, if you were really imagining these things, your mouth would start to water.

That’s just one example of the mind-body connection.

There is so much I could go into with this topic that this page could go on forever. So instead, let’s start with three common health concerns that are caused by stress and start from there.

Physical Pain

Ever heard a sudden noise that scared you silly? Do you remember what your body did? All of your muscles probably became tense and ready for a burst of energy (fight or flight). That’s your body under stress. When you realized it was just a clumsy person (like me) dropping something on the floor your muscles relaxed, you relaxed and life went back to normal.
The stress that’s a concern however is abstract stress. The things that you keep thinking about over and over in your head. Your body reacts the same way as the loud noise, but the difference is that it doesn’t have something to tell it to relax, so your muscles remain tense and these muscles can’t stay tense for long. They end up cramping up and, you guessed it, end up with you in even more pain.
The amazing part? You are so caught up by what’s in your head that you don’t even notice your body’s tense! (I wish I could say I’ve gotten over this but computer work is a huge culprit.) It’s not until you deliberately relax your body that you realize that it’s been tense in the first place. And what’s even worse is that if your muscles have been in that position for a long time, relaxing it doesn’t make you feel better. It causes even more pain!
Remedy: Stretching, Strengthening, Aerobic exercise

Stretching regularly will make sure that your muscles release any tension and it doesn’t feel good at first, but it’s a lifesaver for your body. Strengthening muscles, especially the opposite muscles that you tense regularly will also help. Of course, you know that I’m going to recommend yoga for this, but you can also do any kind of stretching and strengthening routine. Aerobic exercise initially builds up tension, but your muscles are being used so it can’t hold tension for long.
Breathing exercises and massage are another way of working on pain, but if you don’t stretch, strengthen, or exercise then the pain will come back.
Weight Gain

How does stress cause something like weight gain? There are a few reasons, but we’ll focus on two of them. The first reason is cortisol. Cortisol is a great little steroid that your body’s adrenal glands produce. Cortisol helps control your blood sugar, immune system and your metabolism. You need cortisol to function during the day.

Ideally you have a high amount of cortisol in the morning and a low amount of cortisol in the evening before bedtime. Stress causes the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, and its job is to produce more energy in the body, shut down all unnecessary systems and gear your body up for saving your life. Unnecessary systems include your metabolism and reproductive hormones. You need to get out of there or fight to live! So your metabolism slows down. The next thing that happens is you crave fatty foods. That is because fat burns more energy than protein and carbohydrates. Finally, this fat gets stored around your gut. This is because fat stored there is easy for your body turn into quick energy.

Of course, all this is happening while you’re sitting at your desk worrying about a deadline or trying to get an overdue project or well you get what I’m saying. You don’t need to burn the fat, you’re not really fleeing or fighting so that fat lingers, your metabolism’s suppressed and you’re craving fatty foods!

Fat around your gut instead of in your muscles are related to many problems for example, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and more.

Remedy: Relaxation

I’m not saying to stay relaxed all day, but you must make time to relax and give your body that time too. And we don’t relax properly! Your idea of relaxing is not the same as your body’s. You might think going to the bar with your friends to get a drink is relaxing, but it’s not enough to stop the excess cortisol from pouring in.

Insomnia

This is caused by worrying, which causes chronic stress. Now worrying again is normal, it prompts you to act, but when it becomes chronic is where you’ve got to watch out. Worrying causes stress and releases cortisol and adrenaline.

We’ve talked about the effects of cortisol, but what I didn’t mention is that cortisol should be at lower levels in the evenings because it allows your body to relax and go to sleep. If you’ve been using your muscles and doing physical work throughout the day, this shouldn’t be a problem. But, if you’ve not been exercising, and you’re worrying, more cortisol is released at the wrong time and boom! No sleeping. The second culprit? Adrenaline.

Adrenaline is another amazing hormone from your adrenal glands. This is like that amazing boost of energy. It increases your heart rate, causes your breathing to be quick and shallow and speeds everything up in your body. If you’ve been in a car crash and time seems to slow down, it’s in part because of adrenaline. Now this powerful hormone is only supposed to be secreted in times of life or death situations. It’s how we stay alive, but adrenaline also does the opposite of relaxing you, it pumps you up full of energy and that isn’t exactly what gets you to bed at night.

The worse part of our modern lifestyle is that we become “addicted” to adrenaline or similar effects on our bodies. We need that “boost” in order to function at work. Guess what else does what adrenaline does? Caffeine. So your poor adrenal glands are pumping out more adrenaline and cortisol than it was meant to just because of our worrying and abstract fears. Eventually the adrenals get fatigued and all the other good things it does (DHEA, regulation of blood pressure, reduces inflammation, balances the immune system) fails too.

Remedy: Annoyingly, it is again relaxation and exercise, specifically deep breathing in this case.

Breathing deeply from your diaphragm will turn off your excess cortisol and adrenaline. Take care with caffeine and practice some meditation, to-do-list making or any action that will stop the worry that’s going around in your head.

Author's Bio: 

Lakshmi Gosyne is a teacher, author, yoga instructor and coach. She gives free yoga information for beginners at NewbieYoga.com. She is also hosting Bliss REFRESH: Your Solution to Reducing Stress and Anxiety at www.blissrefresh.me