Stress triggers that can wreak havoc on your health

There are universal stress points that affect us all. How we respond to these stressors can influence our well-being. Unchecked stress can affect your health and contribute to conditions such as:

  • Headache
  • Acid reflux
  • Muscle pain
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction

As your level or frequency of stress increases, stress can cause your body to show more serious health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

How does stress affect your health?

Stress has an important role in health and safety. In fact, a section of your brain called the hypothalamus is designed to work as a control center, responding to circumstances that might need a physical reaction. Based on physical cues, it sends out the order for cortisol to flood the body. This hormone can quicken the heart rate, increase breathing rates and fire up your muscles. Evolutionarily, this “fight-or-flight” response was intended to activate for purposes of survival, such as when you perceive a threat or attack. In modern life, however, sitting in traffic or seeing a negative bank account can also induce the same physiological reaction. Over time, the constant release of cortisol can be damaging to your body and your health.

Identify your stressors

The first step in getting the fight-or-flight response under control is identifying causes you stress. Stressors typically fall into four main categories:

  1. Financial
  2. Relationships
  3. Work
  4. Time

Journaling can help you identify what triggers your stress response. Spend a short amount of time for a few days or weeks exploring and recording patterns that make you feel stressed. 

Create a personal roadmap for stress relief

When you’ve identified your top stress inducers, it’s time to create an action plan to neutralize the negative effects stress can have on your health. Every journey will be different, but these five actions can play a big part in helping you climb out of the rabbit hole of stress:

  1. Move. This is easier said than done, but even a five-minute walk twice a day can do wonders for calming stress. Add in some stretching – which you can even do at your desk. Find a yoga class: Chair yoga, gentle yoga or yoga that combines movement and mindfulness are all good choices.
  2. Breathe. There is a reason your phone-linked watch now offers reminders to breathe. When we are stressed, we take shallow breaths. Taking deep breaths throughout the day brings in a fresh supply of oxygen. This life force keeps our cells in tip-top shape.
  3. Drink water. Water keeps your body fluids in balance, it energizes muscles and it detoxifies your kidneys. Even if you drink one more glass than you do now, you’re taking an important step toward stress reduction.
  4. Be grateful. Studies have shown that those who have a daily gratitude practice have nearly 25 percent less cortisol in their bodies. It makes sense that when you focus more on what is good in your life, you’re focusing less on what’s not.
  5. Let it go. Herein lies the most challenging principle in stress relief. Bit by bit, identify certain items that are causing you stress and purposefully say, “I’m not going to worry about that.” Being deliberate in what you choose to let go allows your subconscious mind to realize that it isn’t necessary to release fight-or-flight hormones.

Seek help when you need it

For most people, being mindful about what induces stress and employing coping strategies can make a huge impact. But sometimes you may need extra help. The UCLA Center for East-West Medicine offers both traditional and complimentary approaches for stress-related health concerns.

You can also contact UCLA Behavioral Health Associates (BHA) Specialty Care Network to tap into a network of psychiatrists, family therapists and clinical social workers. 

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