Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of life can lead to physical symptoms alongside the emotions you are managing. While most of us may recognize the symptoms of stress in ourselves, the effects of these emotions can take a physical toll on our bodies. The physical manifestation of stress varies from person to person, so staying in tune with your body on a regular basis can help you recognize when the changes in your life are beginning to wear on you.
The Body’s Reaction to Stress
Your body’s natural rhythm is likely something you don’t think much about. A regular heart rate, consistent breathing patterns, and normal digestive processes are often things we take for granted. But when those things are off, we take note. Stress creates a disruption in your body’s regulatory systems, causing changes in some of the vital functions we are unaware of on a daily basis. During times when you are overwhelmed, you may notice:
- Increased or rapid breathing
- Heart palpitations or increased heart rate
- Restlessness and an inability to sit still
- Muscle tension, especially in the neck, shoulders, and jaw
- Gastrointestinal issues
While these symptoms are often short-lived and disappear when the stressor is removed, chronic stress can create new patterns in your body’s functioning that lead to long-lasting health effects.* For example, a consistently high heart rate could lead to high blood pressure or heart disease. Tension throughout the body can lead to chronic pain or muscle strain. Gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea or vomiting, impacts the nutrient absorption in your body which can result in weight loss.
*This is not a replacement for medical advice. You should consult any changes in physical health with a medical professional.
Healthy Coping Strategies
When you begin to notice physical changes in your body, you may be concerned and unsure of how to manage your symptoms. Somatic symptoms are your body’s way of letting you know that something isn’t right, so (given there isn’t an underlying health issue) developing healthy coping skills for stress can help lessen the effects. Each person responds differently to the various coping strategies available, so it’s important to find what works best for you. If you start with one thing and find it isn’t helpful, try something different. There is no one right way to manage stress, and it’s okay for you to alter your strategies over time.
To start developing healthy coping skills, think about some of the things you naturally enjoy doing. Some people, for example, find writing to be relaxing, so they might benefit from spending time journaling about their stressors. Others find it helpful to create a prioritized task list of all they need to complete for the day or week. Sometimes, managing the specific symptoms you are experiencing can make a huge difference. Practice some deep breathing exercises or engage in a mindfulness activity to lower your heart rate and regulate your breathing. You may not find the “perfect” thing to cope with stress immediately, so take note of what is and isn’t working for you and adjust as needed.
When to Ask For Help
During times of stress, we naturally seek out things that provide us with comfort, but those are not always healthy choices. It’s not uncommon for someone to turn to substance use when they feel overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities, leading to an addiction. This unhealthy coping strategy often results in a life controlled by substance use and doesn’t resolve the underlying issues. For those seeking treatment for addiction with underlying mental health concerns, such as anxiety related to life stress, Pillars Recovery offers comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment. We address the symptoms of your mental health concerns while helping you recover from a substance use disorder. If you’d like to learn more about our addiction treatment model, contact us today.