What stress can do to the body (and what you can do about it)

Stress affects everyone, but there's something you can do about it.

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  • Stress can physically impact your brain, your ability to learn, your immune system, your cardiovascular system, and your gastrointestinal tract.
  • Spending 90 minutes in nature can reduce brain activity associated with depression, lower blood pressure, anxiety, and boost your immune system
  • There are ways to manage stress, but, if you feel like you can't manage your stress, you should reach out to a health professional.

Stress can do a lot to the body, so if you're stressed it's important to find a healthy way to mediate the impact of that feeling you're feeling.

Why? Though there are instances in which stress can indeed temporarily improve and sharpen memory, stress is generally seen to be a detriment to memory. The area of the brain in which your short-term memories are converted into long-term memories is highly susceptible to stress. Chronic stress also weakens the muscle of the brain and sees it decrease in weight.

Stress can also impact your ability to learn, cause mood disorders, and impact your spatial memory — i.e., the part of the brain that records information about one's environment. Furthermore, it can lead to the suppression of your immune system and there is a positive link in research between stress and cardiovascular disease. There's a gender difference worth noting with the latter, too, as women — as the authors of an EXCLI Journal article note — "begin to exhibit heart disease ten years later than men, which has been attributed to the protective effects of the estrogen hormone." Stress also can impact the gastrointestinal tract in a variety of ways.

But just because stress can do all these things doesn't mean that stress will do all these things, especially if you take the following steps.

It's worth noting that these examples are generalized examples. The reason for this is that if you look at the scientific literature concerning coping with stress, you'll come across one exceedingly specific examples after the other, i.e., Chinese students studying, African-Americans with Type 2 diabetes, mothers with children who have type 1 diabetes, being a consultant physician in Saudi Arabia, and many more. It certainly doesn't invalidate the advice that follows, but it's a dynamic worth noting.

1. Take a stroll in nature.

We've written about it before, but it's worth emphasizing again: Spending 90 minutes in nature can reduce the activity in your brain associated with depression, lower blood pressure, anxiety, boost your immune system, and so much more. Even 5 minutes makes a difference.

2. Do regular exercise.

Even if you're only spending 30 minutes a day on exercise, it will have an impact. A string of Doctors from Spain noted in a paper published in 2015 that "Regular exercise has multi-system anti-aging effects." One reason could be that exercise — as noted in another paper published in 2015 — "enhances protein stability, creating a cellular environment capable of resistance to exercise-induced stress".

So practice your jump shot. Conquer the treadmill while listening to 'Beautiful Anonymous'. Do push-ups when you wake up. You might just take the necessary physical steps to ease your sense of stress in the process.

3. Talk to your physician.

Not in the mood to exercise? Not in the mood to go outside? If so, you might find what William Shanahan, a consultant psychiatrist, told The Financial Times to be worth your attention: "[People] have to get past the view that because they have shown some vulnerability and a sense that they're bleeding in public that somehow the sharks are going to come and swallow them alive … Probably the first person to talk to is your general practitioner, actually. Keep it simple."

People are capable of managing their stress, but they don't have to carry the burden alone. Keep it simple.

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