Life can be hectic, and with everything we have to manage, it’s normal to sometimes feel stressed out. But that stress can affect our bodies in more ways than we realize.

How does stress affect the body?

“Everyone feels stress at different times in their life. But it’s when those pressures go unaddressed and build up over time that we’re left with chronic stress,” explains Dr. Michael Kayal, a cardiologist at Geisinger Community Medical Center, “which can show up in the body as physical symptoms.”

Some of these symptoms include: Sleep problems, Depression or anxiety, Nausea, Diarrhea, Headaches, Heart palpitations, Body aches

Chronic stress, if left untreated, can also lead to higher blood pressure.

“Elevated blood pressure is a common side effect of stress”

Over a prolonged period, untreated high blood pressure (also called hypertension) can increase your risk of developing heart disease or put you at a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

How does stress put me at risk for high blood pressure?

In stressful situations, your body produces hormones like adrenaline, which triggers your fight or flight response. This natural, fear-based response can make your heart temporarily beat faster and work harder. When your heart beats faster and harder, your blood vessels become narrower, which can lead to high blood pressure.

How to reduce stress?

The good news is that managing stress is easy, and it’s free. Infusing a few simple, healthy habits into your lifestyle can help lower your stress levels.

  1. Get some exercise: Exercise is good for your heart. Not only does it help reduce stress and lower blood pressure, it makes you feel good. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, the chemicals responsible for boosting your mood.
  2. Reduce your caffeine intake: While many people rely on caffeine to get them through the day, too much caffeine can increase your stress levels. Coffee isn’t the only culprit — tea, chocolate, many sodas and certain medications contain caffeine. Cutting down your intake can lower blood pressure and lessen some of the physical symptoms of stress, like an increased heart rate or feeling jittery.
  3. Tickle your funny bone: They say laughter is the best medicine and, in this case, it’s a great one. Laughing boosts mood and just makes you feel better.
  4. Talk to the people you love: Phone calls, video chats and texts are all great ways to stay connected with those close to you, even for just a few minutes.
  5. Breathe: When you’re feeling stressed, practicing deep breathing or meditation for a few minutes a day can help calm you.
  6. Get enough rest: When we don’t get enough rest, it affects our mood. Being tired can also impair your judgment and cause brain fog. It’s important to take time for yourself and make sure you’re getting enough rest.
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