Pandemic, Stress and Us
Do you feel like you want to scream so loud sometimes that your lungs would explode? A lot is going on, and many of us feel under the water. Mental health has never been discussed so much because it is real.
For people diagnosed with lupus, feeling overwhelmed due to the pain and lacking control of our bodies is pretty common. Stress and anxiety are part of our daily routine, and it is another aspect we need to manage.
Stress can be defined as the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. It can have dramatic consequences – to our bodies and mind.
At one point or another, most people deal with feelings of stress. That’s part of modern life. But when we live and breathe in the fire-flight mode, it becomes an issue. Our bodies are not built to have high cortisol levels all the time.
In fact, a study from 2015 found that 59% of adults reported experiencing high levels of perceived stress.
But what about our kids? Home learning, masks, unlimited zoom classes, not being able to socialize and play like they used to do. That is very hard for those young souls. I am not even mentioning the social media pressure of being the brightest, most remarkable, and with the most amazing body.
When I talk to some people, they proudly say they do too much and are constantly stressed. Why do we need to embrace a condition or lifestyle that is not healthy for us and can cause so much damage to our lives?
Symptoms of stress
Decreased energy and insomnia
Prolonged stress can cause chronic fatigue and disruptions in sleep, resulting in decreased energy levels.
For example, a recent study of more than 7,000 working adults found that fatigue was “significantly associated” with work-related stress.
A study of 2,316 participants showed that exposure to stress was associated with an increased risk of insomnia.
Changes in libido
Many people experience changes in their sex drives during stressful periods.
One small study evaluated the stress levels of 30 women and then measured their sexual arousal while watching an erotic film. Those with high levels of chronic stress experienced less sexual arousal than those with lower stress levels.
A recent study published in 2021 on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s reproductive health found that 45% of the over 1,000 women surveyed reported a reduced libido due to stress.
In addition to stress, there are many other potential causes of changes in libido, including:
- Hormonal changes
- Psychological issues
Some studies suggest that chronic stress may be associated with depression and depressive episodes. I guess this pandemic has been showing us that.
One study of 816 women with major depression found that the onset of depression was significantly associated with both acute and chronic stress.
Another study found that high-stress levels were associated with major depression in adolescents.
In addition, a 2018 review highlighted the connection between depression and the experience of chronic or inescapable stress.
Physical effects of stress on the body
Some studies have found that higher stress levels are associated with increased bouts of acne. Of course, stress is not the only trigger for acne.
One reason for this may be that when some people feel stressed out, they touch their faces more often. This can spread bacteria and contribute to the development of acne.
One small study measured acne severity in 22 university students before and during an exam. During examination periods in which stress increased, acne became more severe.
Another study of 94 teenagers found that higher stress levels were associated with worse acne, particularly boys.
Many studies have found that stress can contribute to headaches, characterized by pain in the head, face, or neck region.
A 2015 study showed that increased stress intensity was associated with increasing the number of headache days experienced per month.
Another study surveyed 172 military service members at a headache clinic, finding that 67% reported their headaches were triggered by stress, making it the second most common headache trigger.
Body and mind are connected. There is no doubt about it. When our mind is out of balance, our body immediately suffers.
Aches and pains are common complaints that can result from increased stress levels.
My stress goes directly to my neck and upper back. When it is worse, my joints start to inflame, and eventually, everything hurts.
Some studies have found that chronic pain may be associated with higher levels of stress and increased cortisol levels, which is the body’s primary stress hormone.
For example, one study compared people with chronic back pain to a control group. It found that those with chronic pain had higher levels of cortisol.
Another study showed that people with chronic pain had higher levels of cortisol in their hair, which the study described as a novel indicator of prolonged stress.
If you feel like you’re constantly battling a case of sniffles or another sickness, stress may be to blame. Stress may take a toll on your immune system. It depletes our bodies, and that becomes a vicious cycle.
I know that my health suffers when I am going through a very stressful phase.
Studies show that higher stress levels are associated with increased susceptibility to infection.
In one study, 116 older adults were given the flu vaccine. Those with chronic stress were found to have a weakened immune response to the vaccine, indicating that stress may be associated with decreased immunity. I also wonder why some vaccinated people in the same household get covid, and others don’t.
Similarly, one analysis looking at 27 studies showed that stress was linked to increased susceptibility to developing an upper respiratory infection.
A chapter in the 2019 book “The Impact of Everyday Stress on the Immune System and Health” stated that psychological stress could affect a range of bodily functions, such as inflammatory responses, wound healing, and the body’s ability to fight off infection and disease.
Some studies have found that stress may be associated with digestive issues like constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, and digestive disorders.
In Ayurveda, the gut is the first area to be investigated. If the complete digestion, nutrient absorption, and excretion are not working well, it usually causes inflammation in other areas of the body.
For example, a study from 2010 that focused on 2,699 children found that exposure to stressful events was associated with increased rates of constipation.
Stress may significantly affect those with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In one study, increased symptoms of digestive distress were associated with higher daily stress levels in 181 women with IBS.
Appetite changes and weight gain
Changes in appetite are common during times of stress. When I feel stressed out, I crave sweet things and end up overeating without noticing.
Changes in appetite may also cause fluctuations in weight during stressful periods. For example, a study involving 1,355 people in the United States found that stress was associated with weight gain in adults already living with extra weight.
Several studies have shown that high-stress levels can cause a fast heartbeat or heart rate. Stressful events or tasks may also increase heart rate.
In a study from 2001, exposing 87 students to a stressful task was found to increase heart rate and blood pressure. Interestingly enough, playing relaxing music during the task helped prevent these changes. By the way, have you tried my relaxing playlist on Spotify?
According to the American Heart Association, undergoing a stressful event can cause your body to release adrenaline, which is a hormone that temporarily causes your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure to rise. This is one reason why living with increased stress may create a rapid heartbeat.
Exposure to stress may also cause excess sweating, research suggests.
One small study looked at 20 people with palmar hyperhidrosis, a condition characterized by excess sweating in the hands. The study assessed their sweating rate throughout the day using a scale of 0–10. Stress significantly increased the rate of sweating by two to five points in those with palmar hyperhidrosis, as well as in the control group.
Another study found that 40 teenagers exposed to the stress experienced high amounts of sweating and odor.
A 2013 review on “psychological sweating” notes that such sweating occurs in response to stress and anxiety. This type of sweat typically appears on the face, palms, soles of the feet, and underarms.
Because stress can be caused by various issues and symptoms that vary from person to person, treating it depends on personal factors.
However, minor lifestyle changes, like a 15-minute walk, exercising a few days a week, taking breaks from the 24-hour news cycle, drinking a glass of water every hour, taking deep mindful breaths, meditating, talking with friends, or getting professional help, may provide some relief.
Stress may be unavoidable, but how we relate to it is in our power. It’s easier to complain than break a vicious cycle and create a new healthy habit. If you find it hard, read my blog about changing a habit; hopefully, it will be valuable.
Be kind to yourself. You deserve it!