Stress is your body’s natural defense mechanism. The stress response can be good, helping you get to safety or face a threat. But being under stress for too long can have a serious negative effect on your health.Stress is a response to either a physical or an emotional threat. Stress may be short-lived or last a long time. Facing multiple, long-term stressful situations puts extra strain on your body. Over time, the stress may even start to feel normal.
The physical and mental health effects of stress
People respond in different ways to the same stressor. What is stressful for one person may not be stressful to someone else. Stress can lead to:
- Problems with thinking and focusing. You may have trouble concentrating or remembering things. You may make a series of poor judgments or be overly negative.
- Physical problems. A racing heartbeat, dizziness, chest pain and general pain and achiness are just some of the more common physical effects of stress. It may even impact your sex drive. Continued stress may lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Emotional problems. Are you snapping at your coworkers or family? Feeling overwhelmed? Moody or unhappy? These may all be a sign of stress. Continued stress may lead to moderate to severe depression and anxiety disorder. And stress, especially anger, may affect heart health.
- Behavior problems. Do you find yourself wanting to be alone more than you used to? Are you sleeping more or staying up to all hours, either of which isn’t like you? Are you binge eating or forgetting to eat? All may be stress related.
Regain your balanceIf stress has taken over your life, here are some ideas to take back control:
- Take a breath. If you feel your stress levels rising, take a time out. Count to 10. Then rethink the issue.
- Check the source. Monitor your mental state throughout the day. Keep a list of the things that cause you stress. Then you can develop a plan for dealing with the stressors.
- Exercise. Regular, moderate exercise is one of the best stress-busters. Check with your doctor first to see what activity level is right for you.
- Do things you enjoy. Go to a movie, meet a friend for dinner or take up a hobby.
- Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, biofeedback or progressive relaxation techniques.
- Treat yourself well. Make time for healthy meals. Avoid smoking, drugs, drinking too much alcohol and overeating.
- Get quality sleep. Strive to get a good night’s sleep. Hit the hay at the same time, and get up at the same time every day — even on the weekend. Try to limit your caffeine later in the day. Remove electronics from your sleeping area.
- Welcome support. Let supportive relatives and friends know that you’re dealing with stress. They may be able to offer help or support that can make a difference.
Seeking helpIf you try some of these tips but still struggle with stress, talk to your doctor. He or she can recommend a counselor who can help you find other ways to reduce or manage the stress in your life.
***If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call your health care professional, 911 or a suicide hotline such as 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or have someone drive you to your nearest emergency department. If your thoughts about hurting yourself or others is more serious to the point where you have a plan and the method to carry out your plan, call 911 immediately.