Stress Awareness: The Physical and Psychological Effects and Impact of Stress on Your Health

Stressed person at work

The fast paced world you live in is full of wonders. From the hustle of your work weeks to the cherished memories you make with loved ones, there’s so much to be thankful for. But juggling all of that fast-paced hustle can come with some significant side effects.

Stress has a funny way of sneaking into our day-to-day routines. Work mishaps. Burned dinners. Traffic jams. Missed appointments. Planning holiday parties. Lines at the DMV… The list could go on and on. And while you can’t completely avoid or prevent all stressful situations from occurring, there are simple steps you can take to help bring awareness to those moments, add simplicity, and develop ways you can destress.

Let’s take a look at how to identify stress, the negative effects and impact of stress on health, and how to find healthy ways to destress at work and at home.


What is stress?

The Cleveland Clinic describes stress as “a normal human reaction that happens to everyone.” It’s your body’s natural way of processing the changes and challenges life presents to you on a day-to-day basis.

The first Wednesday in November is reserved to celebrate National Stress Awareness Day. In 1998, the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) developed the day to help individuals identify and reduce the stress factors in their lives.


How to know if you’re stressed

Stress is subjective which means it can look different and manifest in various ways from person to person. Its severity and how it impacts your life are completely dependent on your own experience. However, individuals experiencing the physical and psychological effects of stress have often reported many of the same common symptoms like:

  • Aches and pains
  • Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching
  • Stomach or digestive problems
  • Weak immune system
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Sadness

If you find that certain situations lead you to experience these symptoms, it’s best to take note of those signs so you can begin to take positive steps toward addressing that stress. Avoiding the negative long-term effects of stress on the body or choosing to "live with it" may lead to chronic health conditions if not managed appropriately.


The impact of stress on health

Just as stress can cause a slew of immediate physical and emotional reactions, it can also have long-term and chronic impacts if not managed carefully. For example, too much stress can cause adverse effects on your physical health like heart complications, digestive issues, weight gain and even stroke.

Not to mention the long-term risk to your emotional health, relationships and work if managed with unhealthy behaviors like alcoholism, smoking, drug use and gambling.

But that doesn’t mean that all stress is bad stress. Some stress can be good because it keeps you alert and focused. The positive effects of stress help you respond and adapt to changes so you can stay out of harm's way. In times of extreme stress, your body activates the “fight-or-flight response” to help you quickly adjust to situations that may otherwise be uncomfortable or even dangerous.


How to effectively manage and prevent the short and long-term effects of stress

It’s unrealistic to think that you can avoid all stress in your life. But there are simple steps you can take to destress when you are overwhelmed and easy ways to prevent future situations from being too overwhelming. The key is often simplicity–finding ways to break through the complex clutter that surrounds your life.

Here are a few stress reduction techniques you can destress at work and at home.


Destressing at Work

  • Take your breaks

One of the easiest ways to feel stressed is to be overworked and hungry. As best as you can, try to ensure you take your full lunch break uninterrupted. The time away from your desk can help you clear your head and focus on the bigger picture.

  • Close those tabs

We all do it… the dozens of tabs lurking on every browser. Do yourself a favor and close them. It might seem stressful to close them out, but by limiting your view and focusing on just what you need to at one time, your stress can actually decrease!

  • Evaluate your desk

As you’re reading this, how is your posture? Are your shoulders stiff or jaw clenched? Take a few moments every day to evaluate how you occupy your physical space at work. Consciously addressing something as simple as a cluttered desk or uncomfortable chair can take a great weight off your shoulders… literally!


Destressing at Home

  • Focus on deep breathing

When you’re stressed, your heart rate elevates and your breathing may become shallow or irregular. Take a few minutes throughout the day to ground yourself and practice relaxing deep breaths. It can help keep you calm when situations feel out of your control.

  • Get creative

A great way to destress is to find a creative hobby! From painting or writing poetry to cooking or dancing, practicing a fun leisure activity can help break up your day and greatly reduce your stress levels.

  • Practice mindfulness

Mindful activities like yoga, meditation and self-reflection are all great tools to use to eliminate stress. They can quickly bring you down from an overwhelming situation and, when practiced over time, can help you develop healthy ways to prevent stressful situations in the future.


A Culture of Health

Bringing awareness to and reducing stress is no easy task. Thankfully, Clarity offers a range of benefits solutions that can help you in your journey to manage stress by making sure you are covered when you need it most. Solutions like Clarity Cobra, Dependent Care Account, SmartRide, Flexible Spending Account, Health Savings Account and more can all offer a financial reprieve in times of stress. Many can be used for mental health coverage like therapy copays or wellness visits.

This Open Enrollment Season, be sure to review your benefits so you know exactly what’s available to you should you need a little help managing the stressful moments in your life. Remember to also review any supplemental benefits from your employer that may be beneficial in managing stress like EAPs, financial assistance and stress management courses. Knowing all the resources available to you can help you gear your stress management around simplicity and lead to a more fulfilling life.