This article was written by a guest contributor. For guest contribution guidelines, please visit this page.
Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She is frequently lost in a good book when she is not writing about how technology impacts our everyday health and wellness.
Stress is a prevalent part of contemporary life. Unfortunately, while its causes might be situational (and therefore temporary), it can have an intense and lasting impact on your wellness. In fact, part of the difficulty is the way stress can influence, exacerbate, and perpetuate cycles.
Among the most common influencers of this stress-health connection are those occasional but significant changes in your life. Certainly, many people are familiar with how disruptive the stress of going through a breakup or starting a new job can be. However, the wider health implications often begin subtly and get worse if they’re not addressed. Even seemingly positive life changes can trigger stress-health cycles.
We’re going to examine the stress-health connection during big life transitions to answer the big question–what should you know about it, and how can you mitigate the negative effects?
The Link Between Physical and Mental Health
In order to overcome the negative impacts of stress, it’s important that you understand the stress-health connection a little better. Most people have some understanding that physical and mental health can influence one another, but many don’t realize just how far these impacts can stretch.
Physical Impact of Stress
The most common physical impact of stress is headaches. This in itself may be relatively innocuous, but over an extended period of time, it can produce further anxiety. And, unfortunately, the trouble doesn’t stop there. Stress-induced anxiety can have further and more serious physical symptoms. For instance, the vagus nerve that regulates the body’s response to stress also regulates the digestive system. This means your mood — particularly when stressed or anxious — can cause stomach cramps, indigestion, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. This impact on your gastrointestinal (GI) system can not only further affect your mood but also disrupts your nutrition.
Behavioral Impact of Stress
It’s also important to recognize how behavioral responses can factor into this cycle. Both the mental and physical effects of stress can influence the actions people take. For instance, stress and resulting bodily fatigue may result in social withdrawal. This can trigger a sense of isolation that results in further stress and physical symptoms. It’s also not unusual for stress and anxiety to influence drug or alcohol misuse. When left unaddressed, this may influence further spirals into other mental health issues, such as addiction, which in turn has a significant impact on physical wellness.
This knowledge of the link between physical and mental health shouldn’t be a cause for worry in and of itself. Rather, it’s vital to consider your gaining a greater understanding of this subject as empowering. It gives you information to have agency over the challenges that disrupt your holistic wellness.
How Life Transitions Affect the Cycle
The stress-health cycle is difficult enough when it occurs in your day-to-day life. However, stressors are not always consistent, and there are times when additional challenges arise. Unfortunately, these can also have a significant impact on the stress-health cycle, and they aren’t always negative life events.
For example, if you’re starting a new job, the anxiety surrounding this may cause you to lose vital sleep. This, in turn, can result in fatigue that may cause you to question your performance in your new position. The fear of the unknown and developing new patterns can also have an emotional toll. It’s not difficult to see how an ostensibly positive life change can lend toward burnout by the stress-health cycle.
It’s not always a simple cause-and-effect issue, either. Some big life transitions have multiple potential sources of stress attached that can compound the impact on your health. For instance, breakups aren’t just stressful because of the emotional toll. Your breakup may lead to the stress of moving home, which involves additional components of financial insecurity, practical issues, and perhaps separation anxiety regarding a shared pet. It’s important to take steps to manage your mental wellness here, as compound issues can very quickly become turbulent.
One of the elements you may find exacerbates this issue is that these big transitional events often seem so huge you forget they’re temporary. Yes, they’re draining and understandably emotionally challenging. But the cycle of stress and physical symptoms can cloud how accurate your perspective on these events is. By effectively disrupting the cycle, you’ll tend to find the circumstances are more manageable.
Adopting Stress Management Strategies
Let’s face it, knowing you need to disrupt the cycle and actually doing so can be very different things. When big life transitions occur, you may not be fully aware of the most effective steps you can take to mitigate stress. As such, it’s worth taking some time to become familiar with them now so you can lean into them in the future.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Regular practice of meditation or mindfulness can help you to combat the stress-health cycle. Not only does it give you tools to separate from the circumstances and purely focus on breathwork or the sounds of the world around you, but you may also find it helps you to gain a calmer and more accurate perspective on the sources of your stress. Mindfulness can be useful for monitoring the changes in your mind and body so you can seek help when necessary.
Regular exercise has long been considered an effective way to address stress alongside a variety of other mental health conditions. It also helps to bolster your physical wellness. It boosts your immune system, improves energy levels, and promotes quality sleep. As such, making time to get outside and get moving every day helps to combat multiple aspects of the stress-health cycle at once.
Often, one of the most stressful components of big life transitions is the feeling that you have no control over them. It’s important to get into the habit of assessing what practical activities you can perform during tough times. Even relatively small achievements can give you a boost of confidence that might disrupt the stress cycle.
It’s important to remember that going through transitional periods alone can add to the stress of the circumstances. Building a solid support network around yourself can help you minimize isolation. Your community could include friends or family members you feel comfortable talking to when you’re anxious. It can also be useful to identify resources you have no personal connection with. Therapists and support groups can be invaluable for venting without feeling the need to filter yourself.
Stop The Stress Cycle
One of the dangers of stress is it can tangle you in a cycle of physical health issues and further mental wellness challenges. While there are several day-to-day stressors, some of life’s big transitions can serve to trigger or exacerbate these cycles. By understanding the relationship between such changes and your health, you can better recognize and mitigate the worst symptoms. It’s rarely easy, but establishing stress management methods that work for you are vital tools for navigating those inevitable big transitions.
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