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Feeling stressed?

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Steps you can take to reduce stress include exercise, face-to-face interaction, reduced caffeine intake and sleep. Stress can negatively affect different parts of the body such as the immune system and stomach. (Courtesy graphic)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Steps you can take to reduce stress include exercise, face-to-face interaction, reduced caffeine intake and sleep. Stress can negatively affect different parts of the body such as the immune system and stomach. (Courtesy graphic)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- -- Spring is in the air, and as the weather starts to change, so do our everyday lives. Our to-do lists grow, kids are getting out of school soon, the house needs spring cleaning, tax day is approaching, projects are at work and more.

As our lives shift and change, so do our stress levels. While stress is often thought of as being a negative factor, it is not necessarily the case. It’s our body’s natural response to potential danger.

Stress prepares us for what is known as the “fight or flight” response, which still helps us to survive in a modern world. However, when the body goes into a stress state at inappropriate times, we can encounter numerous problems.

Effects of stress on the body

If we perceive a situation to be stressful, our body activates our stress response. Once our brain decides the present situation is stressful, our body releases adrenocorticotropic hormone, cortisol and adrenaline.

In some short-term, immediate situations, an increase in these hormones can prove to be beneficial. Your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes quicker, and your muscles tense up, preparing you for a potentially serious situation.

However, if your brain continues to send out stress signals, your body’s response will continue.

This continued response to stress can affect bodily systems including the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, the digestive system, the muscular system, and the immune system. Stress can increase your breathing rate and heart rate to distribute oxygen-rich blood to your body.

When stress is prolonged, breathing can become difficult. Prolonged stress can aggravate breathing conditions, such as asthma or emphysema. Stress hormones also cause blood vessels to constrict and divert blood to your muscles, but when they are continuously secreted, blood pressure increases, causing an increased risk of a stroke or heart attack.

The negative effects of stress can also affect how your digestive system acts. An increase in stomach acid production during the stress response can increase chances of heartburn and acid reflux. Ulcers are another concern. While stress does not directly cause ulcers since they are caused by a bacterium known as H. pylori5, it can increase your risk or cause existing ulcers to act up.

The muscular system and immune system can both benefit from short term stress by allowing your body to protect itself and often times, heal itself. However, chronic stress can lead to unnecessary muscle tension, causing headaches and other body aches. In addition, stress hormones can weaken the immune system over time. This can leave you more susceptible to illnesses and increase recovery time.

Ways to decrease stress

Whether it’s the looming deadline of taxes, the thought of spring cleaning, or simply not having enough hours in the day, stress can wreak havoc on our body. Below are a few ways to manage stress levels.

Get moving: Exercise is a very common way to relieve stress. When you exercise, feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins, are released in your brain, often improving your mood.

Connect with others: A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found adults that have frequent face-to-face interaction with friends or loved ones had reduced sub-sequent symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. If you’re feeling stressed, try to get that human interaction, even if it’s only for a short period of time.

Reduce caffeine intake: Ingesting a large amount of caffeine can increase the body’s stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, leading to additional health consequences, such as weight gain, moodiness or heart problems. In addition, caffeine blocks the hormone adeno-sine, which calms the body and prepares it for sleep.

Get some sleep: Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hours a night 5.5 vs. 4.4 on a 10-point scale. Sleep helps restore our mind and body. Fatigue can cause us to think irrationally, thus increasing our stress level.

There are plenty of ways to relieve stress. Finding a safe and healthy method to decrease stress can help you to be happier, healthier, and more productive.

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