Stress Awareness Week 2020 – Physical Wellbeing

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The Physical Impact of Stress

When we feel the effects of stress, our body reacts very dramatically, immediately releasing the hormone adrenaline into the bloodstream. Adrenaline increases our heart rate and blood pressure and raises our glucose levels. Cortisol, one of the hormones that provides the body with energy is also produced. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism, creating a ready supply of energy – in the form of glucose – to prepare for a flight-or-flight situation. It is cortisol that gets our systems pumping. Once cortisol and adrenaline are in action, breathing becomes shallow and blood flows away from the skin surface to parts of the body that require more energy in an emergency – the internal organs and brain, for instance. This is one of the reasons that we might turn pale through stress and, in the long term, our skin may suffer as the nourishment it needs is being diverted to important organs. Added to this, the stomach releases more hydrochloric acid than it would normally require. Hydrochloric acid is needed to break down our food but under stress we produce too much, which can break down our stomach lining. The muscles tense to prepare for a fight or flee and many internal organs – spleen, liver, brain, heart and so on – go into overdrive, working much harder than they should need to. This uses up lots of vital energy a, blood supply, oxygen and nutrients – all of which are wasted.

The physical effects of stress include:

  • An increased heart rate
  • A dry mouth
  • A tense forehead
  • Shallow and fast breathing
  • Clenched jaw and teeth
  • Flushing of the face
  • Increased perspiration
  • Tightness of skin
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Suspension of the digestive system and ‘butterflies’ in the stomach
  • A relaxed bladder
  • Feeling weak
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Stomach problems

In more severe causes it can cause:

  • Chest pain
  • Burnout
  • Sexual problems
  • Heart attacks


There are several techniques which can help reduce the physical impact of stress.

Getting a good night’s sleep

The amount of sleep required for each person can differ depending on several different factors including age and gender. As an average, you should be aiming to get 8 hours of sleep per night. Having a good nights sleep will support your immune system, help you to relax, aid the regulation of weight and increase body strength. Make sure that you are preparing your body for sleep by finishing your day quietly, eating early to ensure that the body is not digesting food overnight and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol and nicotine. An easy indication of whether you are getting enough sleep is if you are dreaming.

Get moving to combat stress

Human beings were designed to be active and move, not to be sat statically on chairs for long periods of time; exercise is essential part of good body function. An extra bit of good news is that exercise is also your shortest route to a feeling of wellbeing, relaxation, and a physical glow. Not only does it keep the heart healthy and get oxygen into the system, being active can burn off the stress hormones, boost your feel-good endorphins and take your mind off your daily worries. Aim to exercise to the point of perspiration at least three times a week.

Stay hydrated

The human body is approximately 70% water. The effect that water has on our brain is probably best understood when we understand that our brains are made up from approximately 85% water. When we are not hydrated enough, we can experience anything from headaches and fatigue to seizures, which can be severe symptom of dehydration. Woman should be aiming to drink at least 4 pints a day and men should be drinking 5. Bear in mind that this is not a set number and it may increase if working in high temperatures or due to pregnancy.  

Do you want to combat stress and poor wellbeing by improving personal resilience and build self-awareness? Take the first step and attend our online course, Excelling Under Pressure: Mastering Personal Resilience.

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