Stress and anxiety are often considered interchangeable terms, when in fact, they are not. Anxiety is characterized by a constant or recurring sense of fear or dread, a feeling that something horrible is about to happen. Stress is typically described as a feeling of being overwhelmed or under pressure. Although the terms are not interchangeable, stress can cause anxiety. Left unchecked, emotional stress can affect your physical and mental health.
The Potential Impact of Emotional Stress on Your Mental Health
Whether the stress in your life is coming from internal or external forces, it’s important that you don’t downplay the stress you feel. While some stress in your life is inevitable, when stress causes physical, mental, or behavioral changes, it’s important to recognize the signs and take steps to minimize the effects.
You may be experiencing the effects if you recognize any of the following 6 signs of emotional stress:
- Difficulty making decisions or solving problems
- Becoming more emotional than usual
- Feeling overwhelmed or on edge
- Difficulty remembering or keeping track of things
- Using alcohol or drugs to relieve stress symptoms or forget about stressors
- Avoiding situations that cause you stress, such as skipping classes or avoiding particular people
The Potential Impact of Stress on Your Physical Health
The stress you feel affects more than your moods and emotions; it also takes a toll on your body. Stress causes your adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol. Without an opportunity to release, cortisol levels build up. Elevated cortisol levels create all kinds of potential health problems including decreased bone density, weight gain, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels.
As the effects of chronic stress take their toll on your health, you may be aware of several physical symptoms.
Some of the physical symptoms of emotional stress include:
- Heart palpitations or chest pain
- Frequent jaw clenching
- Frequent colds or infections
- Depression or anxiety
- Significant changes in eating habits, with weight gain or weight loss
- Sleeping more or less than usual for you
- Tension headaches or migraines
- Chronic back pain
- Shoulder or neck pain
- Gastrointestinal disturbances (diarrhea, constipation, or pain)
Taking Time to Listen to the Signals Your Body is Sending
If stress is causing physical symptoms, your body is trying to tell you something. You may need to learn practical ways to eliminate some of the stress in your life and effectively manage the symptoms. Here are several methods to help you alleviate the effects of emotional stress.
Taking Time to Relax and Regenerate
Yes, life gets busy. A busy lifestyle without enough time to relax and rejuvenate can contribute to your stress levels. You do not necessarily need a week-long retreat to benefit from the effects of relaxation. Even taking a 15-minute break from the realities of your life can help tremendously. Set a timer or a time limit, if you must, but take some time to be kind to yourself. Here are just a few suggestions known to reduce stress levels.
- Take a walk or investigate the rejuvenating benefits of yoga, physical activity reduces cortisol production
- Meditate, or simply close your eyes and focus on positive thoughts
- Listen to music, sing along or dance if the music moves you, all known stress- reducers
- Play a game, read a book, or indulge in a relaxing bath
- Devote some of your time to a favorite hobby, old or new
- Listen to a comedian or watch a comedy, laughter can alleviate stress
Focusing on Sleep Quality
Stress can interfere with your sleep quantity and quality. Not getting enough rest creates a vicious, continuous cycle of accentuating the stressors in your life. If stress is interfering with your sleep, you may want to try a few of these suggestions.
- Go to bed and get up each day at the same time to help reset your circadian rhythm. You should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Maintain a consistent schedule whenever you can
- Engage in a relaxing pre-sleep routine of your choice. Some suggestions include a relaxing bath, a cup of tea, reading, and music by candlelight. A sleep routine will help signal your brain that your day is ending
- Get more sunlight during the day, and dim your lights in the evening to promote melatonin production, your natural sleep hormone
- Avoid using any of your electronic devices in the hour before bedtime, the blue light of the screen signals your brain that it is time to be awake
Experimenting with Essential Oils or Aromatherapy
Plant extracts, essential oils, and aromatherapy have been used for centuries for their potential health benefits. These benefits are backed by scientific research. Whether applied topically or used in aromatherapy, plant essences trigger a chemical reaction within your brain.
The fragrance molecules and other active plant compounds stimulate the receptors in your brain responsible for memory recall and emotions. Essential oils can also trigger the autonomic responses that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, digestive responses and other involuntary functions. Some of the essential oils shown to be valuable for alleviating emotional stress include:
- Roman chamomile
Reducing the Effects of Stress with Chamomile Tea
Chamomile is a popular tea in many cultures, apparently for a good reason. Chamomile tea helps alleviate stress by increasing the levels of melatonin and serotonin in your bloodstream. These neurotransmitters help minimize the effects of stress while strengthening your immune system and promoting cardiovascular health. There are several other reported benefits, including:
- Improved sleep
- Fighting inflammation and muscle spasms
- Protecting your skin
- Fighting some forms of cancer
- Reducing high blood pressure
- Alleviating gastrointestinal distress
Alleviating Emotional Stress with Other Botanicals
One or two daily cups of chamomile tea could significantly reduce the amount of stress you feel. It can also potentially reduce some of the adverse effects of stress on your body. Chamomile is not the only beneficial herbal tea available. Some other herbal teas that can help you manage the effects of emotional stress include:
- Peppermint tea
- Ginseng tea
- Valerian root tea
- Lavender tea
- Lemon balm tea
- Passionflower tea
- Green tea
It is important to note that herbal teas can interact with some medications. If you have any known health conditions or take medication, it’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before adding an herbal treatment or dietary supplement.
It’s essential for your health and well-being to appropriately manage stress, but it’s not always easy. If the stress you feel is interfering with your quality of life, and self-care is not providing you with stress relief, it may be best to engage the services of a qualified counselor. We can help you overcome the emotional stress that is taking a toll on your physical and emotional health and help you feel better.