Table of Content
What’s Stress Got to Do With It?
by Dylan Hao |
You may be feeling pressure from your job, from family and friends, and even internal stress from health issues you don’t know about. All these stressors show up physically, and you can spot them if you know what to look for.
What’s stress got to do with what’s going on in your body? The answer, in a nutshell, is everything.
We’ll explain what’s going on internally and externally when you’re in stressful situations and how to handle the effects.
Stress Begins in the Brain, But it Doesn’t Stop There
Stress starts in the fight-or-flight area of the brain called the amygdala. When the brain perceives a potential danger, the amygdala sends off alarm signals to prepare the rest of the body to run or fight.
It’s an excellent system if you’re about to get hit by a car, but not so great when it's an ongoing or chronic feeling.
Living with your amygdala on continual alert impacts the whole body. Your systems become overused, and you may notice a decline in your mental and physical health.
So, if you’ve developed problems “out of the blue” like teeth grinding and headaches, chances are it could have to do with stress.
What’s Going On in Your Body Behind the Scenes
Think about the last time you were in a confrontation with someone. Ignore the emotional side for a minute and picture your physical responses:
- Was your heart racing?
- Head pounding?
- Muscles tight?
- Did you feel hot or “see red”?
These are all typical physical reactions when we’re upset. They’re caused by stress hormones triggered by the brain, resulting in various physiological changes.
You don’t tell your body to do these things; that fight-or-flight response kicks in and does them for you without conscious thought.
No matter how calm you are on the surface, underneath those layers, your brain might be overreacting. If you’re under a lot of stress, whether it’s due to untreated health conditions, family or job issues, or your environment, your stress response is roaring.
If you ignore it, you could be in for some serious consequences.
What Happens When That Stress is Chronic
Your body can handle the disruptions caused by stress in small amounts and get right back to normal, but chronic stress eventually causes long-term damage.
This is a top reason why how you respond to outside triggers is crucial to your stress levels. If your brain has become conditioned to see everything as a threat, this scene of stimulus-adrenaline-alert is constantly playing out, and, as you can imagine, it’s exhausting for your body.
An Invisible(ish) Threat
Stress is an invisible threat that can cause significant problems to your well-being. Since these changes happen internally, you may not even know they’re occurring. By the time you notice them, the damage has already begun.
Chronic stress may contribute to health conditions such as:
- High blood pressure
- Stroke and heart attacks
- Depression, anxiety, and addiction
- Sleep disorders
Luckily, your body warns you about impending issues long before they’re irreversible. If you know the signs, you can treat the problem.
Warning Signs of Chronic Stress
Stress affects you differently during immediate stressful situations than under low-grade, chronic tension. It’s easy to recognize the signs of danger when your blood is boiling and your emotions are high.
But once you’re out of the red alert zone, your brain might still think you’re in the yellow warning area. These symptoms of stress look different.
If you notice any of the following behaviors or feelings, you may be dealing with damage due to ongoing internal attempts at stress management:
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Upper body discomfort, particularly in your neck, shoulders, and facial muscles
- Trouble sleeping and daily fatigue
- Lack of energy
- Appetite changes
- Changes in your behavior patterns
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Increased use of addictive substances
- Extreme mental highs and lows
Anything out of the ordinary is how your body attempts to communicate a health problem. It’s up to you to listen to those signals and try to do something about them.
Physical Signs of Stress
We often recognize that stress and mental health challenges go hand-in-hand. But the physical damage is just as problematic, although it’s sometimes easier to spot if you listen to your body.
In addition to an increased heart rate, digestive problems, and immune system changes, you may pick up on other physical signs that your body is not happy under the surface.
For example, most people will clench their teeth from time to time. Intense concentration or stress can create a need for the brain to brace or prepare for a potential threat.
One of the first steps for many stress relief therapies is to take a quick mental scan of your body to determine if your jaw is tightly clenched.
This is a great starting point because clenching can be your brain’s subtle way of gearing your body into fight-or-flight mode. Now that you’ve caught yourself there, you can actively try soothing techniques to calm down.
Clenching usually happens unconsciously until we purposely watch for it. When it’s a constant problem, though, it can lead to more stress on your body.
Stress and Bruxism
Remember those signs of stress that included headaches, facial and neck muscle pain, and shoulder discomfort?
Those symptoms are so common because they’re side effects of bruxism, a common condition in people dealing with chronic stress.
Bruxism, better known as teeth grinding and clenching, can happen when you’re awake or asleep, although sleep bruxing is more typical. Because you’re not aware you’re grinding your teeth, the strength of your jaw clenching so tightly causes damage to your enamel and gums and the connected muscles and joints.
While researchers aren’t sure why bruxism and stress are so strongly correlated, they do know it likely has to do with cortisol levels.
When you have too much cortisol, and it’s not released before you fall asleep, your brain uses jaw movements to eliminate some of those extra hormones.
Over time, untreated bruxism can lead to severe pain and discomfort in the neck and shoulder muscles, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, and tooth damage.
How Night Guards Help With Bruxism
A simple way to minimize the effects of bruxing is to use a night guard. These oral appliances prevent your upper and lower teeth from touching, giving the jaw muscles a much-needed rest while you sleep.
Wearing your night guard consistently may gradually reduce long-term damage from bruxing. In the meantime, we’ll look at other things you can do to get a handle on stress’s physical effects.
Our Tips for Reducing the Damage of Stress
When dealing with everyday, stressful problems, you likely already know about them. If it were something you could easily drop, you’d have done it by now.
So, all the well-meaning advice about reducing stress by getting out of bad situations doesn’t help you. But, if you could minimize the damage caused by those issues, that could be an incredible benefit.
The good news is that you can!
As long as you pay attention to your body instead of ignoring the signs of stress and assuming that you have everything under control, it is possible to reduce the effects of long-term stress, even if you stay in the same environment.
Dylan, JS Dental Lab’s co-founder, suggests a combination approach involving meditation, physical activity, and artistic hobbies, such as drawing. Distraction techniques often allow the mind to focus and center on something, which minimizes the experiences of stress.
Customer Support Team Member Paolo often turns to his favorite comfort food to calm his nerves. Engaging in pleasurable activities which provide familiarity and joy can help the brain combat those negative, stressful experiences by replacing them with more pleasant ones.
Angela, Customer Support Team Member, likes self-care through guided meditation, mindfulness, essential oils, and yoga. These relaxation techniques are used by many professionals in high-pressure roles to keep them from burnout.
Maintaining an awareness of the physical state of being can help to keep those fight-or-flight manifestations in the body to a minimum. Utilizing positive affirmations can ease acute stress by reminding you of the positive experiences in your life rather than focusing on negative events.
Shifting your perspective and trying to grab onto that positive attitude can significantly impact the reduction of stress and improvement of your quality of life. But if your physical and mental health problems continue, contact a health professional before they worsen.
If you're feeling a little stressed, you can always take a quick mental scan. Take a deep breath in, close your eyes, and clear your mind. Relax your jaw muscles and your shoulders, and slowly move your head from side to side while inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds.
Whatever activity allows you a few minutes to collect your thoughts, center yourself, and release muscle tension can become a vital part of your stress management plan. Using those strategies regularly will minimize the power stress holds over you, physically and mentally.
And, when your teeth bear the brunt of the burden of unreleased cortisol and the day’s stressors, your trusted JS Dental Lab night guard will help give you a peaceful night’s sleep.