Last Updated on January 31, 2023 by Andre Panagos M.D.
What is stress?
Stress is a physiologic state of mental or emotional strain resulting from some form of adverse or demanding circumstance. Stress can be triggered by many things that are real or perceived and can be experienced in variable degrees in different individuals.
How can stress affect your health?
It is important to remember, that not all stress is bad. It is a natural physiologic response that can be life-saving in some situations such as escaping a burning building. During a stressful situation, your body releases particular compounds and hormones that heighten your senses, tense your muscles and increase your heart and lung function to get you ready to run. In short bursts it is a blessing; however, with chronic stress, the prolonged and continuous exposure of your body tissues to these compounds is detrimental to your health. The stress response boosts certain organ systems such as your heart, lungs and muscles which are immediately needed for survival over others such as your immune, digestive and reproductive systems. As a result, their activity is limited and impaired. Once the threat has passed, these other body systems restore themselves. If they are unable to do so or if stress remains chronic, serious health problems can develop including stomach ulcers, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety and in rare cases, death.
What are common stress-related symptoms?
Everyone feels and responds to stress in different ways. Some individuals predominately experience digestive symptoms, whereas others may develop sleeplessness, headaches, depressed mood, anger or irritability. Because chronic stress can impair the immune system, there is an increased propensity for more frequent and severe infections, including the common cold or flu.
How can I decrease and better cope with stress in my life?
It is never too late to start taking steps towards maintaining your health and outlook which can reduce or prevent the ill-effects of chronic stress. Some tips include:
- Surround yourself with positive people and those who can provide emotional and other support.
- Set priorities and decide what must be get done first, what can wait and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting an excess load on you.
- Review your accomplishments at the end of the day and not what you have been unable to do.
- Limit your focus on problems.
- Schedule healthy and relaxing activities such as spending time with loved ones or doing your favorite hobby.
- Exercise regularly as even just 20-30 minutes of mild-moderate exercise can help boost your mood.
- Explore stress relieving exercises such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other movement activities.
- Seek help from a qualified mental health care provider if you feel overwhelmed and cannot cope, have suicidal thoughts, or are using drugs or alcohol to artificially elevate your mood.
The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and The University of Wisconsin Interative Medicine Program have great resources to help you get started.
- ”Fact Sheet on Stress.” NIMH RSS. Web. 16 Jan. 2015. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml>.