The pace of life for Americans in the 21st Century has become increasingly stressful. Although most of us recognize the negative impact that stress has on our emotional health, research shows that it can cause harm to our physical health as well.

For example:

  • Stress reduces the immune system’s effectiveness. There is evidence that stress affects human immune responses to viruses and bacteria. Stress can weaken our ability to ward off colds, flu and other infections.
  • Stress increases risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that chronic stress is a hormonal chain of events that can increase blood cholesterol and blood pressure, two risk factors for heart disease. Stress can also affect clotting factors in the blood, making it stickier, thereby increasing risk for heart disease and stroke. In addition, studies show that acute stress from catastrophic events can trigger heart attacks in people with pre-existing heart disease.

Pay attention to what your body is telling you.

The American Academy of Family Physicians says that approximately 2 out of every 3 doctor visits are stress-related. Accordingly, many of the physical symptoms we experience such as headaches, backaches, upset stomachs and sleeplessness can be the result of the amount of stress in our lives. These symptoms may be our body’s way of telling us to slow down, better manage our stress and get our lives in balance. Unfortunately, because we are so busy, there can be a tendency to ignore these physical symptoms and continue at the same hectic pace – placing our health at risk.

Practice stress management every day.

Because of our pace of life, it’s important to take steps each day to manage your stress level and keep your life in balance. Stress management techniques can help you relax, relieve tension and counteract many of the negative affects stress has on your health. In addition, practicing relaxation techniques can improve how a person physically responds to stress by: slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, slowing breathing rate, reducing the need for oxygen, increasing blood flow to major muscles, and reducing muscle tension.

Some of the best ways to manage stress include:

  • Moderate exercise. The Surgeon General recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 days a week (i.e., a brisk walk, riding a bicycle, raking leaves, shoveling snow, etc.).
  • Relaxing with your favorite hobby. Take time daily to do something that you love whether it is reading, gardening, spending time with a pet or just enjoying nature. Studies show that strolling through a garden or seeing one out your window can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and ease pain.
  • Praying or meditating. To relax your body, calm your mind and emotions and refresh your spirit. Close your eyes and sit quietly and comfortably. Start by relaxing the muscles of your feet and work up your body relaxing muscles. Focus your attention on your breathing. Breathe in deeply and then let your breath out. Count your breaths, and say the number of the breath as you let it out (this gives you something to do with your mind, helping you to avoid distraction).

Sources: The American Medical Association , Scientific American, Federal Occupational Health’s WellTimes newsletter and Washington and Shady GroveAdventistHospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.