Stress is part of everyday life. In fact, the right amount of stress can help us in our jobs to make decisions and to meet a goal. But when stress is constant and lasts for days or weeks, it can have a serious impact on our health – this is the type of stress that concerns health care professionals. Below are five ways to help you cope, plus one bonus tip.
How Stress Affects the Body
A Gallup poll found that Americans are among the most stressed in the world. Stress causes a physical and emotional reaction in our bodies: The nervous system releases hormones, including cortisol, that trigger the “flight or fight” response. Usually, this response is short-term. Your heartbeat increases, breathing gets faster, muscles tense and you may start to sweat. But, when you stay stressed over a long period of time, the release of those hormones can impact your health. Prolonged stress can cause:
- Depression and anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fertility problems
- Frequent headaches
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain or loss
Common Causes of Stress
Everyone has different stress triggers – situations or events that cause stress. The American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2019 Stress in America poll found that the following are some of the biggest stressors:
- Mass shootings stress 71 percent of Americans
- Health care costs stress 69 percent of Americans
- Work stresses 64 percent of Americans
- Violence and crime stress 64 percent of Americans
- The current political climate stresses 62 percent of Americans
- Money stresses 60 percent of Americans
- Traffic is a major source of stress, especially around major metropolitan cities
5 Ways to Manage Stress
Stress management is an important way to improve your health and avoid serious implications of long-term stress. Just as everyone has different stress triggers, everyone also responds differently to different stress management techniques.
Five easy and effective ways to manage stress include:
Regular physical activity and healthy eating can help your body fight stress hormones and lower your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a common side effect of stress and can cause long-term damage to your heart, as well as increase your risk of a heart attack. Next time you’re feeling stressed or feel your blood pressure rise, take a break from what you’re doing to go for a quick walk, or grab a healthy snack, or take a long relaxing walk.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Simply speaking, mindfulness is when you’re fully present. When stressed, that means calmly acknowledging how you feel and working to identify what’s causing your feelings of stress or anxiety. Once you identify the source of your stress, you can accept your feelings and work toward a solution that will help you feel better. This may include taking a break from what you’re doing, meditating or speaking with a family member or friend.
The APA’s 2013 stress report found that adults who had less than 8 hours of sleep felt more stressed than those who had at least 8 hours of shut-eye. Make a consistent bedtime routine, including getting to bed at the same time every night and plan for at least 8 hours of sleep to help you feel better and more rested. Avoid screen time (television, computer or telephone screens) at least 1 hour prior to bedtime to help get to sleep faster.
4. Track Spending
Money and finances are a common cause of stress. Empower yourself by understanding where your money is going. Make a budget and track your spending to take control of finances and reduce your stress.
Simple stretches throughout the day are a great way to take a break from stressors of work or daily life and re-center your mind and body. Stretch your legs, arms, back or neck at least once an hour and see what a difference it can make.
Bonus Tip: Talk to Someone
If you’re experiencing chronic stress, talk to a trusted friend or family member. It can often help to share your worries and concerns with a loved one who can offer perspective and provide insight on how you can better manage your stress, workload or concerns. Or schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss any physical or emotional concerns you may have. Your provider can complete a comprehensive physical that monitors your blood pressure, along with other screenings, to learn how stress has impacted your health. Your provider may also refer you to a therapist or psychologist to help you better manage stress.
Find a provider near you by visiting Emory Healthcare online.
Caroline Jones Collins, MD, joined Emory at Peachtree Hills in January 2018. Dr. Collins grew up in Snellville, GA, and gained her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia. She attended Emory University for both medical school and her internal medicine residency. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two children. Dr. Collins is passionate about preventive health and helping patients live healthy, happy lives.
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