Strength in Stress

September 21, 2020 | Jody Gatewood

The past seven months have been stressful, so over the next few weeks we are going to have a series of blogs on stress. Contributors to the blogs who have expertise in the area of stress will teach us more about what it is, how to manage it, and how to use stress for good! The blogs will include how stress affects the body, eating habits, physical activity, sleep patterns, and family relationships. Today’s blog was written by Share Kelley, an Iowa Concern Hotline staff member, and will cover how stress affects the body.

Think of your body like a computer. It takes in information, and puts out responses. Pressure can be useful or harmful, which can result in brief responses like ‘Fight or Flight’. If our body had to respond all day, every day, it would drain our system. Like any computer, the body needs breaks.

Here are six ways you can recognize when your body needs a break:

  1. Headaches: Stress can trigger and intensify tension headaches. Drink a lot of water, avoid caffeine, take brain breaks, and limit screen time.
    1. Pro Tip: Schedule water breaks throughout the day.
  2. Stomachaches:  Stress can make tummy aches, nausea, and GI upset worse. Make healthy food choices for meals and snacks. Choose vitamin rich fruits and vegetables.
    1. Pro Tip:  Plan regular meals and snacks to refresh yourself.
  3. High Blood Pressure:  Stress tightens blood vessels causing high blood pressure. Schedule time during the day to do some deep breathing.
    1. Pro Tip:  Try 4-7-8 deep breathing. Inhale on a count of 4, hold for 7, exhale on a count of 8.
  4. Tense Muscles:  Stress tightens muscles causing stress aches in the head, neck, and back. Take time throughout the day to loosen tight muscles.
    1. Pro Tip:  Use muscle relaxation. Tighten then fully release one muscle group at a time from your toes all the way up to your forehead. Then sit with all muscles fully relaxed.
  5. Insomnia:  Stress can make it hard to fall asleep. Try reading, listening to relaxing music or guided meditation. Avoid screens before bed.
    1. Pro Tip:  Schedule sleep and block interruptions during that time. No calls, texts, or screens.
  6. Frequent Illness:  The immune system cannot function as well when the body is already stressed.
    1. Pro Tip: Use the tips above to create a routine so your body is ready to fight infections.

If you are struggling with stress or if you would like more information, check out the Iowa Concern website.

In addition, the State of Iowa has received federal funding to offer free virtual counseling and assistance to those affected, in any way, by COVID-19. COVID Recovery Iowa provides counseling, virtual activities, referrals and help finding resources to any Iowan seeking assistance or a listening ear. For more information, visit

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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