Is Stress and Anxiety affecting your work, your relationships or your physical health? You're not alone.
Stress and anxiety are both a normal and natural reaction in life – but for some of us the physical impact of stress and anxiety can begin to take control. They are no longer fleeting and temporary feelings; they consume you and reduce the quality of your life.
Over 45 you may experience a new build-up of stress and anxiety from work, health issues, relationships and divorce, loss, caring for elderly parents and children, and any big life changes. Most of my clients come to me because they are fed up with living in the same cycle of anxiety and stress.
Their work and relationships are suffering. They’re sleeping badly. They’ve lost motivation, their eating habits have become really poor, and they’re always tired. They’re also experiencing a whole range of physical health symptoms (some of which are listed below) The impact this is having on them physically and psychologically is huge. They know they need help, they know that something has to change, but they aren’t sure exactly how to change them.
- Longer term stress is proven to weaken the immune system, and over 45 you start to become more vulnerable to stress-related changes in immune system functioning.
- Reducing Stress and Anxiety and following a healthier lifestyle can prevent over 50% of ischemic strokes. The physical impact of stress and anxiety on your overall health will lower considerably. Your immune system will also be stronger. Leaving you healthier, happier, and more confident.
What Exactly Happens During Stress?
We all feel stressed from time to time – it’s all part of the emotional ups and downs of life. Stress has many sources, it can come from our environment, from our bodies, or our own thoughts and how we view the world around us. It is very natural to feel stressed around moments of pressure – but we are physiologically designed to deal with stress, and react to it.
When we feel under pressure the nervous system instructs our bodies to release stress hormones including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These produce physiological changes to help us cope with the threat or danger we see to be upon us. This is called the “stress response” or the “fight-or-flight” response.
Short term stress can actually be positive, as the stress response help us stay alert, motivated and focused on the task at hand. Usually, when the pressure subsides, the body rebalances and we start to feel calm again. But when we experience stress too often or for too long, or when the negative feelings overwhelm our ability to cope, then problems will arise. Continuous activation of the nervous system – experiencing the “stress response” – causes wear and tear on the body. It also has a significant detrimental effect on your immune system.
Stress, Anxiety and our Immune system
The immune system is a collection of billions of cells that travel through the bloodstream. They move in and out of tissues and organs, defending the body against foreign bodies (antigens), such as bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells.
There are two types of lymphocytes:
B cells– produce antibodies which are released into the fluid surrounding the body’s cells to destroy the invading viruses and bacteria.
T cells – if the invader gets inside a cell, these (T cells) lock on to the infected cell, multiply and destroy it.
When we feel continually stressed or anxious, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why we are more susceptible to infections and viruses.
The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes)
Short term suppression of the immune system is not dangerous. However, chronic suppression leaves the body vulnerable to infection and disease.
Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system as a person may use unhealthy behavioural coping strategies to reduce their stress, such as drinking, smoking, or having an unhealthy diet.
How To Find Out If You Are Stressed?
People usually ignore stress and don’t take the necessary steps to deal with it. At the same time, it is impossible to measure the levels of stress — it depends entirely on the tolerance levels of a person!
Some could be stressed owing to the pressures of a job, or some could be facing the stress of dealing with difficult relationships. The extent to which one can handle it determines the severity of stress. The psychological and physical impact of stress and anxiety can be seen in a number of ways.
However, you could pay attention to these subtle signs, to know if you are stressed!
- Do your family members and close friends keep asking you if you are stressed?
- Do you find yourself at odds with them, more frequently?
- Have you stopped doing things that used to make you happy?
- Do you find it difficult to fall or stay asleep, compared to your normal patterns?
- Are you delaying getting out of bed, especially if you know the day is going to be stressful?
- Do you find an increase in the number of cigarettes you smoke or has your intake of alcohol suddenly increased?
- Has your diet changed, and you’re eating less of the healthy stuff, or simply grabbing a snack because you have little energy to cook.
If you find yourself nodding to most or all of these questions, it might be time to take a step back and look for ways to manage the physical impact of stress and anxiety before it causes some serious trouble!
When stress and anxiety begin to spiral out of control you may experience panic attacks or avoid situations and experiences out of the fear of feeling anxious. You can begin to find it hard to go about your everyday life and do the things that you’d usually enjoy.
Working on your mental resilience and coping mechanisms you will see improvements in your physical health, as stress and anxiety have been documented to cause physical symptoms. These physical symptoms can build-up and become serious, just like they did for me.
I experienced a number of the symptoms listed below, but even more significantly my levels of stress and anxiety reached levels that caused me to have a stroke at 51.
Stress and anxiety over 45 can affect both your short-term and long-term physical health. Here are a few of the physical effects of stress and anxiety:
Physical symptoms of stress and anxiety you may experience
- Poorly functioning immune system
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Tiredness, fatigue, and shortness of breath
- Difficulty sleeping and staying asleep
- Higher blood pressure, and increased risk of stroke and heart attacks
- Abnormal heartbeat, often faster and racing
- Heart burn, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Flare ups of existing conditions like asthma or arthritis
- Flare ups of skin issues like acne, eczema, and psoriasis
- Loss of libido and sexual dysfunction.
So what can you do about it?
Reduce the psychological symptoms of stress
Work with a coach or therapist to identify your sources of stress and anxiety, then with their support you will learn techniques and strategies to overcome the psychological impact of stress and anxiety. This will in turn provide significant benefits to your physical health too. Particularly those listed above.
This might be working with me or someone else you identify as being the best person to help you. If you find the right coach, they will be able to help you deal with your anxiety or stress and feel like yourself again. Look for someone who is happy to have a chat and listen to what you have to say – rather than someone who is just trying to sell themselves.
Ask how they might approach your situation. Also, ask how many sessions they think you may need. Although the coach might need to meet with you first, they should be able to give you a rough idea based on experience. Then you can decide if it is worth it to you.
Has the coach experienced what you’re going through and can really understand how it feels. Have they overcome these types of issues themselves, and really know what works and what doesn’t. Ask the coach about their own personal and work experiences, and what training they have. What are the methods they use to help you overcome your stress and anxiety.
The right coach will answer all these questions openly and honestly. They will expect you to be fully open and honest with them, so do expect the same back. Asking these types of questions can really help you choose the right person to work with. The key point is that working with someone to reduce your stress and anxiety will provide you with significant benefits, both physically and psychologically.
The physical benefits of exercise have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active.
Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress and anxiety. Studies show that it is highly effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension. They also elevate and stabilise mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About ten minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
Equally as beneficial forms of exercise are stress reducing activities such as yoga, mindfulness practice and Qigong. (link to another blog post on the benefits of qigong for stress and anxiety)
When we’re stressed or anxious, our dietary habits can radically alter too. We can either comfort eat or go the complete opposite and hardly eat because we’re too stressed. Diet has a huge impact on the physical impact of stress and anxiety. If our body is healthy, our mind is healthier too. Good nutrition will also help you overcome some of the physical aspects of stress and anxiety, particularly skin conditions, and gut health. The correct diet allows our body to cope far better with stress than if we’re eating poorly. A healthy diet is also strongly linked to a better functioning immune system.
The best diet for preventing the physical impact of stress and anxiety is one that is full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, and vegetable oils. Include alcohol in moderation, if at all. Go easy on red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates. Foods and beverages with added sugar, sodium, and foods with trans-fat are also unhealthy.
- People with diets consistent with this dietary pattern had a 31% lower risk of heart disease, a 43% lower risk of diabetes, and a 30% lower risk of stroke.
Weight and waistline
The following information is linked to the previous section on diet. It is also linked to overindulgence in the wrong type of foods that we often use when we’re stressed or anxious.
Being overweight can lead to fatty material building up in your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to your organs). If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. If this happens in the arteries that carry blood to your brain, it can lead to a stroke or vascular dementia.
Body fat and body shape
Everyone needs some body fat to stay healthy. But too much, particularly around the waist, puts your health at risk.
We have different types of fat in the body.
Many people tend to worry about the fat they can feel, the one that sits directly under their skin. This is called subcutaneous fat. But it’s visceral fat, the fat that surrounds our internal organs such as our heart and liver, that is the bigger health risk.
Visceral fat affects how your hormones work and can:
- raise your blood cholesterol
- increase your blood pressure
- increase your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
All of these risk factors are intricately linked with heart and circulatory diseases.
Carrying weight around your middle can make it harder for your body to use a hormone called insulin, which controls your blood glucose (sugar) levels. This can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Having high levels of glucose in your bloodstream damages your arteries and increases your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.
People who are ‘apple’ shaped (carry excess weight around their middle) are at higher risk than those who are ‘pear’ shaped (carry weight around their hips, thighs, and bottom) because the fat sits around their organs.
How do I know if I’m overweight or obese?
There are two measurements commonly used to assess whether you’re overweight – Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference.
Measuring your BMI
The first step to calculating your BMI is to measure your height and weight. Your GP or practice nurse can do this for you if you can’t do this at home. You can even find tools online to do this.
Your BMI score will place you into one of four categories: underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese.
As BMI doesn’t take muscle mass into account, you may find yourself in the overweight or obese category if you’re muscular.
Your ethnicity can also affect your health risk. For example, adults of South Asian and African Caribbean origin may have a higher risk of health problems at BMI scores below 25.
This is why it’s important to use other measurements to assess your health risk, like waist measurement.
You can measure your waist to see whether you’re carrying too much fat around your middle. A larger waist measurement is often a sign that you have too much visceral fat.
It’s important to note that your waist measurement will not be the same as the measurement you use when shopping for your trousers.
To measure your waist, you’ll need a tape measure. You should place it halfway between the bottom of your ribs and top of your hips. Hold the tape measure firmly just above your belly button to take the measurement.
The recommended waist measurements are:
- below 37 inches (94cm) for men
- below 31.5 inches (80cm) for women.
Adults of South Asian origin are at very high risk of health problems if their waist measurements are higher than the recommended measurements.
(information obtained from the British Heart Foundation)
Putting it all together
You can overcome the emotional and physical impact of stress and anxiety by doing just three key things and making them into habits:
- Reduce your stress and anxiety now.
- Exercise; be active and learn relaxation techniques.
- Follow a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.
By working on your stress and anxiety you can reduce your risk of a stroke by up to 50%, as well as significantly improving how you feel physically and emotionally. If you find yourself connecting with this material the good news is that you can get back to living the life that you want to lead.
I can say this with complete confidence because I was once exactly where you are now. And it affected every area of my life, including my relationships, personal choices, and work.
Back then, I never thought things would change but I got help and I am now living a happy life. I can cope with pressure and stress, and don’t spend my time worrying. Now, I can do the things I want to do in my life without fear, and now I want to help you do the same.
How I can help
Now here is the key thing – don’t let your stress and anxiety stop you from reaching out and seeking help. The first step is often the hardest, but if you choose me as your coach, then I will do my very best to ensure you feel comfortable and at ease when we first speak. I also offer a free initial consultation call so that we can make sure we are a great fit before proceeding. This is most definitely not a sales call. It’s simply an opportunity to learn a bit more about each other.
If you’re unsure about coaching then this is a great opportunity to spend some time with me talking through any issues you may have. We’ll have a conversation about your current circumstances, what you’re having most difficulty with and work out the best way forward.
This may simply be me offering you some brief strategies to help you in this current moment, Or it might be that you read through some of my articles on stress and anxiety. Perhaps you would like to try out my free stress and anxiety course. Find all these on the blog page.
Whatever your circumstances, I know I can help you, because I have been there. I totally understand. Whether that’s in the short term with some advice, or in the longer term with my comprehensive coaching programmes. It’s entirely up to you.
Now is the best time to break free from stress and anxiety, and begin living your life with more confidence. Tell me what’s on your mind.