Stress is a reality that plagues most people, especially in today’s fast-paced and hectic world. Stress affects everyone to some degree or another. It is defined as our body’s way of responding to a demand or threat, whether physical or emotional. Physiologically, our nervous system releases stress hormones, such as cortisone or adrenaline, that initiate a “fight or flight” response. This manifests as symptoms of increased blood pressure, faster breathing and heart rate, and muscle tightening. These physical changes can then increase strength/stamina, reaction time, and enhance focus. Believe it or not, the feet show symptoms of stress and reveal when it’s time to take a “chill pill” and get some stress relief. Symptoms of stress show themselves in countless ways, all over the body including the health and appearance of the feet.
There are many causes of stress, which include physical, such as chronic illness or injury, or mental, such as anxiety or fear. Emotional causes of stress can include work-related stress (losing a job), financial worries (paying off debt), and changes to interpersonal relationships (divorce or losing a loved one). Chronic physical or emotional stress, if not handled correctly, can lead to more serious health problems: an increase in heart attack or stroke, depressed immune system, weight problems, sleep issues, skin conditions, prolonged pain or fatigue, and digestive and reproductive issues. Chronic stress can leave a person more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation.
Common effects of stress on your feet and ankles
Some of the most common primary physiological effects of stress and anxiety on the body include the release of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), changes to your circulation and respiratory systems, tensing muscles, and reduced immune function. These systemic effects lead to specific symptoms throughout your body including the feet.
Dry and cracked skin, including conditions like eczema and psoriasis
There are a couple of reasons that stress may lead to dry, itchy, or cracking skin.
Stress can lead to dehydrated skin or overly reliant on caffeinated beverages. Stress can alter the balance of gut bacteria and increase cortisol production, which can lead to breakouts on the skin.
Tingling, burning, or other unusual sensations
When your body is stressed out, hyperventilating, it may pump more blood to vital organs —leaving less to go to the feet and ankles. As a result, tingling or shocking discomfort in the feet is common, especially before and after anxiety attacks.
Cold feet are a common side effect of stress. One is the reduced blood flow to the feet and ankles associated with “fight or fight” responses. The other is increased sweat production. Sweat’s primary biological function, after all, is to keep the body cool — and feet have a very large number of sweat glands.
Fungal and viral infections like athlete’s foot, fungal toenails, and warts
Your feet rely on sweat glands to stay lubricated, and people who are dealing with stress often sweat excessively. When your feet, shoes and socks are damp all the time, they promote the growth of fungus leading to infections.
Stress often causes muscles to tense up for a variety of reasons. Changes to circulation and the nervous system can put pressure on blood vessels, which triggers contraction of the muscles. Dehydration and poor diet can also play a role here. The result is stiffness, pain and sometimes spasms or twitching. This can happen just about anywhere in the body including the feet and the calves.
De-stressing your feet
There are simple ways to combat stress and these can be managed. Obviously, the best comprehensive plan for combatting and relieving stress in your own life. However, this is not easily done and depends on many factors.
Physical activity is one of the best and most consistent stress relievers. Exercise triggers your brain to produce endorphins, which are chemical neurotransmitters that literally make you feel good. Regular exercise helps you to sleep better – both more hours and higher quality, and that helps you feel more alert, refreshed, and relaxed. Research has shown that just 30 minutes a day of cardiovascular exercise can help boost mood, reduce cortisol levels, and improve clarity and focus.
Diet: Eat a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and omega-3 fatty acids to reduce cortisone levels and boost the immune system and lower heart disease.
Sleep more: Sleep allows our brain to recharge, repair muscle and improve memory. Adults who get at least eight hours of sleep at night are more likely to have improved memory, energy and motivation during the day to manage daily stresses.
Relax and connect: Practice yoga, meditation and deep breathing to boost levels of joy, serenity and calm. Ask for help from family, friends, community groups, or religious organizations to provide emotional and other support.
Talk to your doctor: If stress is creating health issues, address them early on with a medical practitioner. Intervention can include prescription medication, nutritional support, counseling and support groups.
• For more information email us at email@example.com, or to see a podiatrist visit Bahamas Foot Centre, Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996 or Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre, Hilltop Medical Centre, East Terrace Centreville or telephone 394-5820; or Lucayan Medical Centre, East Sunrise Highway, Freeport, Grand Bahama, every first and third Thursday, telephone 373-7400.