Everyone feels stressed from time to time. But what is stress? How does it affect your health? And what can you do about it?
Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Every type of stressor—such as exercise, work, school, significant life changes, or traumatic events—can be stressful. Stress can affect your health. It is essential to pay attention to how you deal with minor and significant stress events so that you know when to seek help.
Below are 5 things you should know about stress and how you can relieve it.
1. Everyone is affected
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people may cope more efficiently or recover from stressful events more quickly than others. There are 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 be an occurrence that keeps happening over an extended period.
Examples of stress include:
- Routine pressures of work, school, family and other daily responsibilities
- A sudden adverse change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness
- A traumatic experience such as a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where people may be in danger of being seriously hurt or killed. People who experience traumatic stress often experience temporary symptoms of mental illness, but most recover naturally soon after.
2. Not all stress is severe
Stress can motivate people to prepare or perform, like when they need to take a test or interview for a new job. It 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 circumstances, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival.
3. Long-term effects can harm your health
Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic, such as when the source of is constant, or if the reaction continues after the danger has subsided. With chronic stress, those same life-saving responses in your body can suppress immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems, which may cause them to stop working usually.
Different people are affected in different ways. For example, some people experience mainly 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.
Routine stress may be the hardest type to notice at first. Because the source tends to be more constant than in cases of acute or traumatic stress, the body gets no clear signal to return to normal functioning. Over time, continued strain on your body may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety.
4. There are ways to manage stress
The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to can reduce or prevent these results.
The following are some tips that may help you to cope better:
- Recognize the signs of your body’s response, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
- Talk to Your Doctor or Health Care Provider. Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
- Get Regular Exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and reduce stress.
- Try a Relaxing Activity. Explore coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises. For some related conditions, these approaches are used in addition to other forms of treatment. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities. Learn more about these techniques on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) website at (www.nccih.nih.gov/health/stress)
- Set Goals and Priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you on overload. Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
- Stay Connected with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
- Consider a Clinical Trial. Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), NCCIH, and other research facilities across the country are studying the causes and effects of psychological stress, and stress management techniques. You can learn more about studies that are recruiting by visiting www.nimh.nih.gov/joinastudy or www.clinicaltrials.gov (keyword: stress).
5. What to do if you’re overwhelmed
You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope or are using drugs or alcohol to deal. Your doctor may be able to provide a recommendation. You can find resources to help you find a mental health provider by visiting www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.
Final thought on What to know about Stress
Anyone experiencing severe or long-term, unrelenting stress can become overwhelmed. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is open to anyone. All calls are confidential.
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