Everyone feels stressed from time to time, but what is stress? How does this affect your overall health? And what can you do to manage your stress?
Stress is the way the brain and body respond to any demand. Any type of challenge, such as performance at work or school, a major life change, or a traumatic event, can be stressful.
Stress can affect your health. It’s important to pay attention to how you deal with minor and major stressors, so that you know when to seek help.
Here are five things you need to know about stress:
1 Stress affects everyone.
Everyone gets stressed from time to time. There are different types of stress, all of which carry risks to physical and mental health. A stressor can be a one-time or short-term event, or it can occur repeatedly over a long period of time. Some people can deal with stress more effectively and recover from stressful events faster than others.
Here are some examples of stress:
• Routine stress associated with the pressures of school, work, family and other daily responsibilities.
• Stress caused by sudden negative change, such as loss of a job, divorce or illness.
• Traumatic stress experienced during an event such as a major accident, war, assault or natural disaster where people are at risk of being seriously injured or killed. People who experience traumatic stress can experience very distressing temporary emotional and physical symptoms, but most recover naturally soon after.
2 Not all stress is bad.
In a dangerous situation, stress signals the body to prepare to face a threat or to flee for safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles contract, and your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity – all functions aimed at survival and in response to stress. In non-life threatening situations, stress can motivate people, such as when they need to take a test or interview for a new job.
3 Long-term stress can be harmful to your health.
Dealing with the impact of chronic stress can be difficult. Because the source of long-term stress is more constant than acute stress, the body never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning. With chronic stress, these same vital reactions in the body can disrupt the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems. Some people may primarily experience digestive symptoms, while others may experience headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger, or irritability.
Over time, the continued pressure on your body from stress can contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.
4 There are ways to deal with stress.
If you take practical steps to manage your stress, you can reduce the risk of negative health effects. Here are some tips that can help you deal with stress:
• Be observant. Recognize the signs of your body’s reaction to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased use of alcohol and other substances, easy anger, feeling depressed, and low on energy.
• Talk to your health care provider or a health care professional. Don’t wait for your health care provider to ask you about your stress. Start the conversation and get appropriate healthcare for existing or new health issues. Effective treatments can help if your stress is affecting your relationships or your ability to work.
• Exercise regularly. Just 30 minutes of walking a day can help improve your mood and health.
• Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may include meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Plan regular hours for these and other healthy, relaxing activities.
• Set goals and priorities. Decide what needs to be done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be aware of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
• Stay connected. You’re not alone. Keep in touch with people who can give you emotional support and practical help. To reduce stress, seek help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
• Consider a clinical trial. Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and other research centers across the country are studying the causes and effects of psychological stress as well as stress management techniques. You can find out more about studies that are hiring by visiting Join a study or ClinicalTrials.gov (keyword: stress).
5 If you are overwhelmed by stress, seek help from a healthcare professional.
You should seek help immediately if you are having suicidal thoughts, feeling overwhelmed, feeling unable to cope, or using drugs or alcohol more frequently due to stress. Your doctor may be able to provide you with a recommendation. Resources are available to help you find a mental health care provider.
Call the national lifeline for suicide prevention
Anyone can be overwhelmed. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call the toll-free, confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. service accessible to all.
– National Institute of Mental Health