How Stress Impacts Health

How Stress Impacts HealthI’ve known for a while how stress impacts health, especially my own health. Stress manifests in many different ways, and too often stress can lead to health challenges. Stress, as a topic, cannot be talked about too much. It is a complex topic with many causes as well as myriad ways that it can affect us. In this post, I’m going to talk about a couple of ways that stress impacts my health.

First, let me ask a question:

Do you recognize when you’re stressed?

I once had a coworker who drove 26 miles to and from work every day. In Houston traffic. On surface streets with countless traffic lights. I had my own experience for a year driving Houston traffic to and from work. It was only 10-12 miles each way. At the end of the day? I was stressed.

When I commented that driving that traffic would totally stress me out, my coworker replied that the drive did not stress them out, even suggesting that they enjoyed the drive.

In another conversation, this same coworker told me about how exhausted they were in the evening. Going to bed by 8:00PM. I’m not sure they ever put two and two together, but I would bet money that the stress of driving Houston traffic was the cause of their exhaustion.

Stress and My Health

There are many ways that I know when I am experiencing stress. Extreme stress has, on several memorable occasions, triggered a severe migraine. I also can develop a rash on my hands as a result of stress. Stress can also make me more susceptible to colds. And, in recent years, I have this strange reaction that results in edema, primarily in my feet and legs. This past week I noticed the beginnings of that rash, increasing edema, and the onset of what seemed like a cold.

I woke up this morning – the last Thursday in February – with the first signs of a cold. That was after a couple of days of being hoarse. It was reminding me of early January of this year. That flu bug that seems to be visiting everyone this year paid a visit to our house. I had a mild case of flu but the next week I developed laryngitis.

It is rare that I get sick. Even more rare that I’m sick twice in two months. And when I think back, I see that it frequently happens at a time when I am stressing about something.

The edema is an interesting phenomenon that has only shown up in the past 3 years. Prior to my open heart surgery, I had major problems with edema. That made sense because my aortic valve wasn’t functioning at capacity so fluids tended to follow the laws of gravity. I fully expected that it would clear up following surgery.

Finding Relief

It did. And then it came back. It cleared and came back a number of times. All the while I’m trying to understand what had changed. I tracked everything: what I was eating, how much water I drank, exercise. I couldn’t make sense of it.

Until the day that I realized all the things I was stressing about. I had just returned from my personal retreat to Bella Green in Pipe Creek. On Monday of the next week, during yoga, my yoga instructor was talking about the relationship between pain and stress. Instantly, I realized that stress was a huge problem with me. I had allowed stress back in within hours of returning from my retreat. Sometimes, knowing the source of an issue is a huge part of healing. It was nearly magical the way that the edema and pain cleared up over night!

On the surface, it doesn’t make sense, though I have a theory. For several years, I had very bad edema in my feet and ankles and legs. So bad that I usually hid them behind long pants and sneakers. That edema was caused by the defective valve. The valve I have now is working at capacity. But the vessels and nerves had developed a habit that is hard to break. And so stress, which we know impacts nerves, causes the edema today.

I’ve seen it come and go a few times since then. I realize now that I need to take some time to really work on the things that stress me out.

What's your biggest stress trigger? Share on X

What I Know About My Stress

For me, nearly all of my stress is brought on by me. Worry is high on the list and something I fight often. Another stressor that I have mostly conquered is being a news junkie.

Lately, I now realize, much of my stress is in over-thinking everything and trying to juggle too many things at one time. It’s going to take some serious inner work to fight that stress!

Along with worry and overthinking, I often catch myself thinking negative thoughts. I need to work some more on positive affirmations to counteract those negative thoughts.


Do you recognize when you’re stressed? How does it manifest for you? What is your best tactic for fighting it?

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