Don't Let Stress Get the Best of You
Hannah McRae
/ Categories: Health

Don't Let Stress Get the Best of You

Life can be stressful, but being able to identify the source and effectively handle it can greatly benefit your health and well-being. The causes of stress can come from many different places. For working individuals, job-related stressors can include unhappiness, long hours, a heavy work load and fear of termination, among many others.

Unfortunately, some people aren’t able to leave this stress at the office, as they may take it out on their family or loved ones, causing problems at home. Other sources of stress can include divorce, the death of a loved one, traumatic events, and increased financial obligations.

We live in stressful times. According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 3 out 4 Americans reported experiencing at least one stress symptom in the last month. 45% have difficulty sleeping36% report feeling nervous or anxious, 35% report irritability or anger, and 34% report fatigue due to stress.

This APA study also found that the most significant source of stress among Americans is the future of the nation, with 63% of respondents expressing that the current state of affairs in the US is causing them stress. This is more than are stressed about money (62%), work (61%), health care (43%) and unemployment and low wages (22%.)

In some cases, stress isn’t a bad thing. It has the power to motivate individuals faced with situations like tests or job interviews. It can also, in some situations, prove to be a life-saver. The National Institute of Mental Health points out that when faced with danger, your body prepares itself to deal with a threat or flee to safety. It goes into survival mode by quickening your pulse, increasing your rate of breathing, tensing muscles and causing your brain to use more oxygen and increase activity to help extract you from dangerous situations.

Long-term stress can take a toll on your health. When you are stressed, you may notice that you’re breathing faster, your muscles may tense up and you could find yourself breaking out in a sweat. You may also find that you’re having trouble sleeping or concentrating or suffering from headaches or an upset stomach. Experiences like these usually dissipate as the stress subsides and don’t have any adverse long-term effects.

But, when you let stress build up without letting go, you can greatly increase your chances of developing more serious health problems. If you experience chronic stress, you could be at risk for more serious health conditions. According to WebMD, these can include:

  • Depression

  • High blood pressure

  • Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)

  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)

  • Heart disease

  • Heart attack

  • Heartburn, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome

  • Upset stomach -- cramps, constipation, and diarrhea

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Changes in sex drive

  • Fertility problems

  • Flare-ups of asthma or arthritis

  • Skin problems such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis

The key to managing stress is to first recognize it, and then take steps to prevent it. There are lots of ways to relieve stress. Regular physical activity, such as working out, walking or playing sports can help – and as an added bonus, it positively affects your overall health. You can also take advantage of one of many relaxation techniques, including yoga, meditation, tai chi, or deep breathing practice. These techniques offer a wealth of additional health benefits, for example, keeping you calm, which can even help improve your brain functionYou also don’t have to take on stress alone. Socializing with family and friends or meeting with a therapist or support group can give you a great sounding board to address the sources of stress in your life, and could offer you a new way of dealing with them that you may not have thought about yourself. 

Devoting time to hobbies and other interests can help take your mind off your stressors. Listen to music, watch a movie, read a book, or solve a crossword puzzle. There are plenty of activities at your disposal, so if one isn’t working, you’ve got lots of other options. Try some out and find what works best for you. Above all, maintaining a healthy sense of humor can work wonders. They don’t say “laughter is the best medicine” for nothing.  Additionally, don’t forget the importance of eating well and getting enough sleep.

If you use these tips and techniques to help relieve your stress but your symptoms persist, visit your doctor. If you are experiencing chest pain accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, seek medical assistance immediately, as these could be signs of a potential heart attack.

In our modern times, and with so much going on in our lives, it’s impossible to avoid stress altogether, but being able to identify and help treat the source of your stress and take an active role in managing stress can help you live a longer, happier life.

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