When people say, “I’m stressed out,” they’re usually describing a mental feeling of pressure or agitation. But while stress may begin in the brain, the process very much involves the body.
Our bodies aren’t meant to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Over the long term, living with chronic stress can actually harm the body in several ways:
1. Panic Attacks
The symptoms of a panic attack mimic a heart attack in many ways. Some indicators of a panic attack include:
• Rapid, shallow breathing (hyperventilation)
• Pounding, racing heart
• Tingling of the arms, hands, legs, feet, or numbness around the mouth
• Weakness, dizziness
2. Shoulder or Neck Pain
Any time your brain senses something wrong, like an imminent threat, it begins to activate the flight-or-fight response, which results in added muscle tension and bodily discomfort. Generally, this automated mechanism selectively tenses some muscles more than others. Chronic stress therefore causes contraction of and pain in the muscles of the neck and shoulders.
Chronic stress can also disrupt your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or experience restful sleep. Contrary to popular belief, insomnia doesn’t mean 100 percent sleeplessness night after night; it actually refers to any ongoing disruption to normal sleep patterns. And while the occasional sleepless night may be annoying, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to other health problems, such as obesity, decreased immunity, and high blood pressure.
4. Decreased Coping Skills
Coping skills are key tools for surviving what life throws at you. Chronic stress literally makes it harder for you make good coping decisions by turning off the higher-functioning centers of your brain. That’s why some people turn to alcohol, food, or illicit drugs to self-medicate their stress.