Stress is a response that evolved in both animals and humans, but unfortunately, it has several negative connotations. While stress allows animals to deal with dangerous and important situations, it triggers a number of negative effects on the human body.
In humans, stress causes the autonomic nervous system or ANS to release hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. Both these hormones elevate the heart rate for circulating blood to important organs and muscles of the body. This mechanism prepares the body to take any immediate action, called the flight or fight response.
However, there are numerous other effects of stress on our body as well as our daily performance and sleep quality. Let’s delve deeper into the effects of stress on our body, our daily performance, and sleep pattern.
Consequences of Stress on Performance
According to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, nearly 40 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder. These conditions encompass numerous conditions and illnesses, including sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome.
Today, sleep-related disorders are on the rise, and many illnesses that people are suffering from are due to an irregular sleep pattern. Apart from high blood pressure, weight gain, and depression, poor sleep causes many health complications.
Stress can disrupt the hormonal balance of the body, leading to sleep disorders. A normal stress level is good for the body to motivate us to work harder and to focus better. But that’s only true as long as the stress is short-term. If stress prolongs, it can have the opposite effect, leading to problems in digestion, memory, concentration, and sleep.
When we encounter a stressful situation, the human body releases stress hormones, particularly noradrenaline, adrenaline, and cortisol. These same hormones trigger the flight or fight response in the body. Once there is no external threat, and the hormones subside, the body begins to relax again.
However, sometimes, the body remains in the same stressful position, and this aggravation to the nervous system has a devastating effect on the overall health. Persistent stress causes the blood pressure to increase, and there is a strain on the heart and circulatory system. Breathing and heartbeat also suffer, and you are in a constant state of hyperventilation.
Impact on Physical and Mental Health
Prolonged stress can make our muscles stiff, leading to neck strain and headaches. Naturally, these outcomes prevent us from delivering our best performance, be it at work or home. An increase in inflammation and high levels of cortisol lead to weight gain. Poor digestion and the accumulation of toxins in the body make it difficult to shed extra pounds.
Stress also triggers emotional eating, which can lead to multiple other problems. It is common for people dealing with stress to experience acid reflux and heartburn. That’s because the stomach produces more acid during these times.
Impact of Stress on Sleep
An interesting thing about sleep and stress is that they have a two-way relationship. Sleep loss leads to stress, and stress leads to sleeplessness. While this link is too complex, researchers are trying hard to find the impact of stress on sleep. Let’s take a look at what scientists have discovered so far about stress and its effect on sleep.
Trouble Sleeping: Stress can increase the time it takes to fall asleep. People with high stress levels are more vulnerable to insomnia, which is a common sleep disorder.
Altered Sleep Architecture: It refers to the structure of sleep. Scientists note that stress can reduce a type of sleep or slow-wave sleep. This form of sleep is important for maintaining mental and physical health. Stress also affects REM sleep, which may decrease, or increase during stress.
Nightmares: It is common to have stress dreams or even nightmares when you are under stress.
As our brain regulates the endocrine system, any changes in brain activity can have an effect on our moods, reproduction, and blood sugar metabolism. That’s why it’s not shocking to observe that when our stress levels are high, we find it difficult to sleep.
How to Reduce Stress
If you want to improve your quality of life by reducing stress levels, here are some natural ways to relieve stress and live a healthier life.
Physical activity is one of the best stress busters. It serves as an important tool for improving mental and physical well-being. Exercise boosts the benefits of other stress-relief measures you are taking to improve sleep and performance. According to a review published in 2017, physical activity can reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. The research showed that exercise has a direct impact on improving the quality of sleep in individuals who are over the age of 40.
When you engage in high-intensity or moderate exercise, you can reduce stress levels successfully. For example, a 30-minute jog or walk can do wonders for uplifting your spirits.
This relaxation technique is growing in popularity because it allows you to become more aware of the present. As a result, you become thoughtful of your inner feelings and emotions. Through meditation, we can train the mind to react without being overwhelmed with emotions. The best time to practice mindfulness is before you go the bed or in the early morning.
Reducing stress is challenging but not impossible. Maintaining a journal can also let you identify the sources of stress. While it’s difficult to resolve all of these problems, you can at least remove some sources that trigger stressful events.
Here are some bonus tips for cutting down stress and improving your sleep pattern and daily energy levels.
- switch to a healthier diet by cutting down processed foods and caffeinated beverages
- lower alcohol and caffeine intake
- don’t check email after every hour
- seek support from family and friends
Both a lack of sleep and stress can lead to lasting mental and physical health problems. It is important for people dealing with stress to find the best possible ways to reduce stress and live happier lives.