The past year has been truly exhausting for me. Amongst other things, looking for a new job, updating and improving my portfolio, a full-time job working from nine to six, attending career coaching sessions, and trying to make music at the same time. Most of the time I felt overwhelmed and worn out. Without any energy left at the end of the day, sinking into appointments and obligations. Weekends weren’t long enough to rest and recover, and I felt the weeks passing me by at top speed. I felt like I was in a rat race.
Thankfully, my situation has changed for the better but this tough period didn’t go unnoticed. I realized that the stress I experienced during the past months has had a terrible effect on my body when, a few weeks ago, I noticed I’d significantly lost some hair.
I was mortified. I’ve always had strong, beautiful long hair, and now all of the sudden, it’s changed so much. This led me to put some things on perspective. I realized this happened due to the lifestyle I’d been having for the past three months. Overworking, not eating healthy, not working out, not taking time to myself, to breathe, to stop, to meditate.
What the hell is long-term stress and what can it do to your body?
Stress is not the same for everybody. What’s stressful for me may not be stressful for someone else. Our limits vary. But if our limits, whatever they may be, are crossed, our bodies will tell.
Once I became aware of this reality, I researched about the effects long-term stress can have in our bodies. In fact, long-term stress can decrease life expectancy. It’s an unavoidable part of life, and while not all stress is bad, too much can wear you down and make you mentally and physically sick.
In a short-term stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises, you’ve gotten ready to act, to protect yourself.
In long-term stress, the response is trickier, as the effects won’t be immediate but will slowly begin to show:
You can become easily unbalanced.
Agitated, frustrated, moody, having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind, start isolating yourself, leading to depression and anxiety.
It can cause inflammation and mess with your immune system.
Chronic stress triggers inflammation in the body, underlying many diseases: heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis.
It can affect your your digestive tract.
The gastrointestinal tract is filled with nerve endings and immune cells, all of which are affected by stress hormones. Thus, it can cause acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.
It can mess up your sex life.
Stress can keep your head miles away when it comes to the act of making the love, leading to loss of sexual desire in both men and women and originating problems like sexual dysfunction, impotence and premature ejaculation in men.
It can cause skin problems and hair loss.
A lack of sleep, dehydration, and junk food cravings often go hand-in-hand with stress, trickling down to poor hair and skin. As stress causes the blood vessels begin to constrict, hair follicles are deprived of the oxygen, minerals, and vitamins it needs for healthy hair growth and deprives your skin of oxygen and essential nutrients.
So, what to do if you’re Anna Wintour and you can’t really slow down?
Cut the coffee.
Ok, I know Anna Wintour won’t follow this tip because she probably has other ways to destress, but unless you have a magazine to run, it’s advisable to reduce your the caffeine intake. It can keep you from experiencing restful sleep at night, creating a cycle of chronic sleep deprivation.
Respect your sleeping needs.
I know it’s hard, but seriously, when your body is telling you it’s tired, listen to it. Use a sleep calculator, take naps during the day if you need to, but most importantly, a night well slept will restore and reenergize you for the day ahead.
Find quick ways to slow down.
Quick no equipment workouts, yoga flows, meditation sessions, or even simple strategies such as breathing exercises can help you to turn off your body’s stress reaction and put a halt to chronic stress so you can get back to your busy life.
Learn to prioritize.
One thing busy people usually have in common is saying yes to many things at the same time, sometimes, without a good reason. It’s important that we ask ourselves if that thing really matters. Otherwise we’ll keep pointing at a hundred directions and not going forward in any.
I’m appalled when I take a look at some people and notice their inability to focus. Stillness of mind is needed in every situation in our lives. I wouldn’t have said it better than Sun Tzu in The Art of War:
“It is the unemotional, reserved, calm, detached warrior who wins, not the hothead seeking vengeance and not the ambitious seeker of fortune.”
Think about it.