Stress! This one word may set your nerves on edge. Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people cope with stress more effectively than others. You have the power to prevent and effectively manage stress. By doing so, you can help lower your risk for serious conditions like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.
What is stress?
Stress is the brain’s response to change. Stress is different for everyone. Many things can cause stress and may be recurring, short-term, long-term and for example, may include your commute to work, searching for a job, or moving to a new home. Some changes are more serious than others, and for example, can include serious illness, loss of a loved one, marriage, or divorce.
How does stress affect the body?
Not all stress is bad. “Stress can motivate people to prepare or perform, like when they need to take a test or interview for a new job. Stress can even be life-saving in some situations. In response to danger, your body prepares to face a threat or flee to safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival.”1
Different people may feel stress in different ways. Some people experience digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.
When under stress you may feel:2
- Unable to focus
Physical signs of stress include:
- Back pain
- Problems sleeping
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain or loss
- Tense muscles
- Frequent or more serious colds
What are the benefits of lower stress?
Over time, chronic stress can lead to health problems and lead to chronic disease. Managing stress can help you:
- Sleep better
- Control your weight
- Get sick less often and feel better faster when you are sick
- Have less neck and back pain
- Be in a better mood
- Get along better with family and friends
How can I cope with stress?
The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to maintain your health and outlook can reduce or prevent these effects. The following are some tips that may help you to cope with stress.
- Seek help from a qualified mental health care provider if you are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, have suicidal thoughts, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope.
- Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
- Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work burdens or family issues, such as caring for a loved one.
- Recognize 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.
- Set priorities—decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
- Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
- Avoid dwelling on problems. If you can’t do this on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you.
- Exercise regularly—just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress. Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities.
- Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises.
If you or someone you know is overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a health professional. If you or someone close to you is in crisis, call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.
1.National Institute of Mental Health:
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: