Stress is the brain’s response to any demand and can be triggered by many things, including change. Not all stress is bad. In fact, all animals have a stress response – sometimes called the fight or flight response – which can be life-saving in some situations. However; prolonged release of these flight or flight hormones and nerve chemicals, which are intended to be released in short burst during stressful times, can lead to health problems.
There are at least 3 types of stress, all of which carry physical and mental health risks.
• Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities.
• Stress due to sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.
• Traumatic stress, due to events such as a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where one may be seriously hurt or in danger of being killed.
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people may cope with stress more effectively or recover from stressful events quicker than others and different people may feel it in different ways. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, and vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them.
Of all the types of stress, changes in health from routine stress may be hardest to notice at first. Because the source of stress 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 from routine stress may lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other illnesses.
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.
- See your family doctor 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 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.
Adapted from National Institute of Health Q&A on Stress For Adults