Before the pandemic hit early on in 2020, most Americans would have already said that they felt stressed. In fact, for several years prior to 2020, Americans continued to rank among some of the most stressed people in the world. From non-stop schedules to highly competitive careers, health issues and more, stress was already being talked about widely in health circles because it itself was causing a crisis in our country.
And then 2020 came along.
Suddenly, what seemed like a stressful situation or event in 2019 was nothing compared to what we were facing collectively. With nearly every aspect of our daily lives changed, the 2020 pandemic has made the issue of stress in our lives paramount.
For years we’ve known that stress wreaks havoc on the body, especially when we find ourselves in near constant states of stress never really allowing ourselves to rest, recover, and step outside of the fight-or-flight mode. Some of the most concerning issues that stress causes on our physical bodies include:
- High cortisol
- High blood pressure
- Hormone depletion
- Weight gain
- Digestive issues
- Weakened immune system
And, of course, each one of these physical symptoms of stress can lead to a multitude of other issues, sending us into a downward spiral of ailments and lack of overall well-being.
Hormone depletion and hormonal imbalance are particularly important to keep in mind in terms of stress because it’s one of the side effects that many people don’t know to look for. Because the brain is triggered when you’re stressed, its natural response is to release cortisol as a chemical signal. While this signal can be helpful in moments of true physical threats, too much cortisol in the body for too long can lead to several long-term complications. These issues aren’t always linked to high levels of stress, which means problems can persist physically and mentally for years on end.
Some of the lesser known problems caused by an increase in cortisol in the body include:
- Changes in libido
- Menstrual cycle fluctuations for women
- Damage to female reproductive tissues
- Poor memory
- Inability to concentrate
Thankfully, as we know, there are ways to intelligently handle stress so that the physical symptoms never get out of control. Perhaps more than ever, we all need to be reminding ourselves of what these strategies are so that we can use 2021 as a real year of rest and recovery.
Some of the most effective ways to healthily combat the stress we’ve all been dealing with this year include:
- Unplugging (from social media and tech in general)
- Eating consciously
- Practicing gratitude
With 2020 being a year of unprecedented events, it’s critical that we all take a look at how we’re really doing right now, being honest with what we discover and knowing that there’s always a way to pull yourself up and out of even the most destructive habits. If we commit to understanding how we’re dealing with the stress of 2020 right now and how it’s impacting our bodies, we can approach 2021 with more confidence, knowing that, whatever might happen, we are ultimately in control of our own responses, reactions, and, therefore, much of our own well-being.