10. Tummy Trouble

One of the first things that happens when the body undergoes the stress response is that blood is diverted away from your digestive tract to your large muscles. Stomach and intestines may empty their contents, preparing the body for quick action. Many people experiencing stress, anxiety, and nervousness also experience stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Long-term episodic or chronic stress has been linked to a number of digestive maladies, from irritable bowel syndrome and colitis to ulcers and chronic diarrhea.

11. Keep Eating Well

Some people respond to stress by losing their appetites. They feel so on edge that they can’t manage to get food down, so they just skip meals. This can quickly snowball into a bad situation if you’re not careful. If you feel like your nerves are keeping you from eating as often or as well as you should, some dietary adjustments can help to make things easier on yourself. Having trouble eating big meals? Switch to lots of little meals throughout the day. Lost your appetite for solid foods? Try eating frequent snacks of yogurt, soup, apple sauce, and other healthy choices.

12. The Cardiovascular Connection

If your heart races or skips a beat when you are nervous or have enjoyed a few too many cups of coffee or cans of soda, you know what it feels like to have your heart affected by stress. But stress can do much more to inhibit the activity of your entire cardiovascular system. Some scientists believe stress contributes to hypertension (high blood pressure), and people who are more likely to see events as stressful seem to have an increased rate of heart disease. Stress can also contribute to bad health habits that in turn can contribute to heart disease. A high-fat, high-sugar, low-fiber diet (the fast-food, junk-food syndrome) contributes to fat in the blood and, eventually, a clogged, heart-attack-prone heart. Coupled with lack of exercise, the risk factors for heart disease increase.

13. Don’t Stress Out Your Skin

Skin problems such as acne are usually related to hormonal fluctuations, which in turn can be exacerbated by stress. Many women in their thirties and forties experience acne during a particular time in their monthly menstrual cycle and despair over the “breakout.” Men aren’t immune, either. Stress can cause chemical imbalances that can cause or worsen adult acne in men. Teenagers, undergoing dramatic hormonal fluctuations just because they are adolescent, are prone to acne anyway, but stressed-out teens may have a more difficult time getting acne under control.

14. Chronic Pain

An impaired immune system and increased sensitivity to pain can worsen conditions that include chronic pain. Migraines, arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, degenerative bone and joint diseases, and old injuries all feel worse when the body is under stress. Stress management techniques as well as pain management systems can help ease chronic pain, but they also help the mind deal with pain so the pain doesn’t make the stress worse.

15. Protect Your Immune System

When the body’s equilibrium is disturbed due to the long-term release of stress hormones and its associated imbalances, the immune system can’t work efficiently. Imagine trying to finish an important proposal during an earthquake! Under optimal conditions, the immune system is much more able to help the body heal itself. However, when conditions are not optimal, some believe guided meditation or focused inner reflection can help the conscious mind perceive what the immune system requires the body to do to facilitate healing.

16. The Stress-Disease Connection

While not every expert agrees on which diseases are linked to stress and which to other factors such as bacteria or genetics, an increasing number of scientists and others believe that the interrelatedness of the body and mind means that stress can contribute to, if not cause, almost any physical problem. Conversely, physical illness and injury can contribute to stress. The result is a whirlpool of stress—disease—more stress—more disease, which can ultimately cause serious damage to the body, mind, and spirit.

17. Keep Your Balance

Managing stress—whether it caused physical problems or resulted from them—will put the body into a more balanced state, and a body that is more balanced is in a better position to heal itself. It will also help the mind to deal with physical injury or illness, reducing suffering. Stress management may not heal you, but it will make your life more enjoyable. Then again, it may help to heal you, after all. That said, remember that stress management techniques should never be used in place of competent medical care. Stress management is best used as a complement to the care you are already receiving for your physical illness or injury.

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