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Dr. David Samai: How COVID-19 stress is affecting you from head to toe

Chronic stress in time of a global pandemic takes both an emotional and physical toll on your body. Learn how to turn down the stress dial

Every single day each one of us wakes up to a day filled with stress, both good and bad.  But lately, fears of COVID-19, our unseen enemy going on more than two months now, have turned into stress overload for practically all of us.  Countless people have died, lost jobs, or have had disruptions to their lives causing unprecedented anxiety, worry, and tension like never before. Families with children have been especially hard hit in the midst of this pandemic. In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that 46% of American parents with children rated their stress level as high compared to 28% of adults without children who say the same.  

For those who experience especially high-octane lives, they may want to find a way to dial down the pressure-cooker lifestyle they are leading.  We may assume that going through our day to day life tolerating stress is normal.  We may come to the belief that each of us are traveling through life along with major stress but that we are equipped to handle it.  The problem with stress is it not only infiltrates our heads but also our bodies.  Have you ever considered that maybe your frequent headaches, insomnia, or body aches could be stress-related?

None of us want to have to tolerate annoying eye twitches or stomach knots but maybe we need to pay more attention to what our body is trying to tell us – they could be warning signs of physical symptoms associated with stress.  It could be your body’s way of nudging your take better care of yourself before it completely breaks down for good.

To get a better idea into how stress can affect the body, here is a look at your body on stress overload from head to toe:

  • Brain – Having a steady flow of cortisol, a stress hormone, from chronic stress can damage your short-term memory.  Stress can also reduce gray matter in the brain. 
  • Nose – Persistent tension can cause seasonal allergy flare-ups.  The reason could be related to prompting a negative immune response.
  • Mouth – Stress hormones mobilize energy to muscles so then at night while asleep, it may release by causing you to grind your teeth leading to jaw pain and headaches.
  • Heart – During moments of high anxiety, stress hormones narrow the arteries in the heart and increase heart rate.  Over time this may raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Stomach – Stress slows the GI tract’s movement and digestive process while upping the chances of inflammation which can lead to diarrhea, pain, or gas. Research shows that stress can even change the balance of gut bacteria, weakening the immune system.
  • Waistline – Anxiety can hurt your metabolism.  A 2014 study found women who experienced one or more stressful events during the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories in the seven hours after eating a high-fat meal than those who stayed stress-free.
  • Fertility – Stress can alter signals to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates hormones that trigger ovaries to release eggs each month.  High levels of stress hormones also affect the body’s main reproductive hormone, GnRH. 

How to lead a less stressful life

Now that we understand why stress can take a toll on our body, what can we do to reduce it?  First, there will always come times of trial and strife that we cannot control causing us stress.  But during the times of less stressful conditions, here are some tips to tone down the amount of stress wanting to boil over and harm us:

  • Look at the glass half full – One thing that is in our power we often forget is that we have free will to choose how to look at life.  If there are things you are worried about at this moment and there is nothing you can do to solve them in the next 2 hours or if you have absolutely no control over the situation (kind of like the weather), then let it go.  Quit blaming yourself or others and learn to have compassion.  See the bigger picture and try to perceive what life is giving you instead of what is lacking.  Shift your attention off yourself and give it to someone else.  Make your life meaningful since it’s hard to be stressed when you view in in that way.
  • Regulate your breathing – We have to breathe in order to live so use the power of your breath.  It can help you navigate the physical and emotional challenges of life.  When we become angry, stressed or scared, our breathing accelerates to the point of difficulty in talking.  Learn to focus your attention by closing your eyes and take even inhales and exhales until your heart rate goes down.  By having power over your breath, you are more powerful than you realize.
  • Honor your core values – Be conscious of your core values – integrity, honesty, courage, positivity, kindness, respect, and commitment.  These values lead you through life helping you in your daily decision-making and shaping your attitudes towards others.  When we fail to honor these core values, this can lead to stress and worry with feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or shame.  Honoring your values frees your conscious mind and keeps stress in check. 
  • Do less to gain more – Too many of us do too much.  Sure, we believe that when our days our brimming with things to do, it makes us look important or that we are making a difference or are in control.  To make a real difference make every action count, be fully present and conscious of the consequences of all your actions.  Practice focusing on one task at a time, learn to prioritize, go with the flow, and be sure to stop and smell the roses along the way. 

Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.

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