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Is Stress Negatively Impacting Your Health?

Originally posted in collaboration with StyleBlueprint.

We all live busy, full lives, and our mental health often gets put on the back burner. The consequences can be more significant than expected, as unexplained physical symptoms emerge and even severe illness develops. In the words of a current New York Times bestseller, “The body keeps the score.”

“We used to think of ‘the mind’ and ‘the body’ as two independently operating entities. We now know they are intimately linked and operate in tandem. Medical conditions as common as irritable bowel syndrome and migraine headaches can be caused or exacerbated by a person’s internal emotional state,” says Dr. Neil Bomar, Onsite Medical Services Director and psychiatrist. In fact, stress can be correlated with almost every major illness, including heart disease and cancer.

The experts at Onsite emphasize that mental stress isn’t just caused by major events like divorce, a death in the family, or the loss of a job. So-called “little things” like consistent tension in family relationships or on the job can build up over time and affect our autonomic nervous system.

Both big things and “little things” that escalate over time can be described as trauma, which profoundly affects the autonomic nervous system. “The autonomic nervous system is like our thermostat. It influences how we see ourselves, how we see each other, how we respond to cues of safety and danger and our access to choice,” says Kathleen Murphy, LPC, LMFT, Onsite Associate Clinical Director.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is the part of our nervous system responsible for “auto-pilot” responses — breathing, digestion, heartbeat, etc. It is wired to accurately read the cues in our environment to move us away from danger and towards safety. When your autonomic nervous system is out of whack, you can’t respond to “normal” life stressors or relationships in a healthy way.

When it comes to our mental health, we often wait until the breakdown, burnout, or crisis to begin addressing the pain, stress, and strife we’re experiencing. But like any aspect of our health, we shouldn’t wait until we hit a wall to start taking care of ourselves. There are endless mental and physical benefits to being proactive!

Practical steps for staying fit — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

When we learn to recognize what is happening in our bodies, we have the power to do something about it. “Any practices that produce relaxation and calm the nervous system will benefit your mental and physical health,” says Kathleen. These include mindfulness meditation, exercise outdoors, yoga, and self-compassion practices. Vitamin D is also surprisingly important, as is getting to know your emotions.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is, for many, a great place to start. Even a practice as simple and safe as mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve one’s immune response. Studies have shown that individuals who meditate have a more pronounced immune response to vaccines (which seems all the more important given the current pandemic). “Meditation has also been shown to activate a particular electrical brainwave pattern associated with a brighter mood. Multiple apps can guide you in a meditation practice that literally takes only a few minutes out of your daily routine,” says Dr. Bomar. Here are some of his favorites:

Exercise Outdoors

Dr. Bomar also highlights the importance of exercise as a widely-accepted mood booster. “Even something as simple as a brisk walk outside can confer mental health benefits. ‘Ecotherapy’ — exercising outdoors instead of within the confines of a facility — has been shown to improve self-esteem and mood and to decrease feelings of tension when compared to people who exercise inside,” he says.


Kathleen touts the additional benefits of yoga practice. “Yoga Nidra (also called iRest) has become more well known in the last few years. It helps you deeply relax the body while staying alert … A relaxed body thinks more clearly and creatively, but we don’t know how to relax and be awake,” she says.

Here are some resources to learn more about relaxing Yoga for beginners:

Self-Compassion Practices

Self-compassion practices such as guided breathing, keeping a journal, or changing your “self-talk” can lead to a more self-aware and healthy state of being. There are many great self-compassion practices, but a great one to start with is daily affirmations. A stronger, kinder relationship with self is linked to improved overall health.

The Importance of Vitamin D

Studies show that Vitamin D deficiency is a major contributor to depression. “Fortunately, Vitamin D replacement is an effective, inexpensive, and simple intervention to support one’s mental health. Sixty percent or more of my clients with depression present with low Vitamin D levels. Research has shown that individuals with Vitamin D deficiency have lower recovery rates from depression and respond less effectively to antidepressant treatment,” Dr. Bomar notes.

Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and easily accessible, but it is important to consult with your personal physician before incorporating one into your daily routine.

Getting to Know Your Emotions

Even if we don’t acknowledge or recognize the stress or trauma stored in our bodies, it affects us. Our friends at Onsite believe that there is nothing you cannot heal from. But “in order to heal, you need to feel.” Becoming Emotionally Smart is a digital emotional health class offered by Onsite that will help you recognize your emotions, understand where they are coming from, and harness them in ways that unlock your potential. Talk therapy is also an effective form of treatment, with remote and online sessions becoming more widely accessible.

Somatic or Experiential Therapy

“We have a body that is meant to process — at every level — the experiences we have so that we can move through them. As we go through experiences, they are intended to also go through us, unless trauma, extended stress, or unfelt emotions cause us to hold onto them. In that case, we need to release it in a somatic way,” says Kristine Jackson, LCSW, Onsite Associate Clinical Director. Onsite’s group workshops and intensive programs are designed to help unlock potential and healing. They use experiential and physical therapies that work at the level where trauma is stored.

To learn more about the links between mental and physical health, check out the following: