All About Stress
Stress affects everyone
Everyone experiences stress from time to time. There are many different types of stress — all of which carry physical and mental health risks. A stressor may be a one-time or short-term occurrence, or it can happen repeatedly over a long time.
Some people may cope with stress more effectively and recover from stressful events more quickly than others. Examples of stress include:
- Routine stress is related to the pressures of school, work, family, and other daily responsibilities.
- Stress is brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.
- Traumatic stress is experienced during an event such as a major accident, war, assault, or natural disaster where people may be in danger of being seriously hurt or killed. People who experience traumatic stress may have very distressing temporary emotional and physical symptoms, but most recover naturally soon after.
Not all stress is bad
In a dangerous situation, stress signals the body to prepare to face a threat or flee to safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, 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.
Chronic stress can cause both physical and mental harm
Coping with the impact of chronic stress can be challenging. 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, those same life-saving reactions in the body can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems. Some people may experience mainly physical symptoms such as digestive symptoms or headaches, while others may have symptoms such as sleeplessness, sadness, anger, or irritability.
Over time, continued strain 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. If you are concerned about how stress may be interacting with your chronic conditions, consult your healthcare provider or Care Team.
There are ways to manage stress
If you take practical steps to manage your stress, you may reduce the risk of negative health effects. Here are some tips that may help you to cope with stress.
Be observant. Recognize the signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
Talk to your healthcare provider, Care Team, or health professional. Do not wait for your health care provider to ask about your stress. Start the conversation and get proper health care for existing or new health problems. Effective treatments can help if your stress is affecting your relationships or ability to work.
Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your health.
Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.
Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get 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 mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
Stay connected. You are not alone. Stay connected with people who can provide emotional support and practical help. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
If you’re overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a health professional.
You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope or are using drugs or alcohol more frequently because of stress. Your doctor may be able to provide a recommendation. Resources are available to help you find a mental health provider.
Sources: MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, and The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center