Submitted by: Anine McCallum, NP
Almost everyone has used the phrase “I’m feeling stressed” at one time or another. It’s part of our vernacular as well as a natural part of our human experience—our body’s reaction to change. In fact, not all stress is bad for us; it can keep us alert and even save our lives if faced with dangerous situations requiring us to move quickly.
So why does stress get such a bad rap?
The answer lies in the type and frequency of the stress we experience. One of the most dangerous types of stress is associated with our day-to-day lives, the so-called “normal” pressures of family, work and other responsibilities. This type of stress is more constant, taking a toll on our emotions and our bodies over time. This leads to symptoms such as headaches, elevated blood pressure, depression, anxiety and others. According to Cleveland Clinic research, prolonged stress is connected to six of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
While both men and women experience stress, women are more likely to report it than their male counterparts. And while both share symptoms such as trouble sleeping and weaker immune systems, women are more likely to experience symptoms such as headaches, heart problems, digestive issues, and obesity. Stress can also lead to women having difficulty becoming pregnant, as it can impact menstrual cycles and reduce their sex drive. Women are also far more likely to have symptoms of depression linked to stress.
There are pharmaceutical options on the market that may be appropriate to address health problems connected to stress, and others that help people manage related symptoms. What is most often helpful, however, are lifestyle changes.
Getting regular exercise, for example, can help to relieve many of the mental and physical pressures we may be under. Even just a 30-minute walk can help to clear our minds and loosen tight muscles. Yoga, meditation and other relaxing activities have also proven helpful in alleviating stress. If you work at a computer, taking short breaks to stand, stretch and stroll is a simple but effective practice.
Self-care--including eating right, getting a good night's sleep and staying hydrated-- is also a positive step in managing stress. It can also help to spend time around friends and family who can provide needed emotional support—especially those who have a tendency to make you laugh. Laughter itself soothes tension, stimulates circulation and triggers the release of endorphins.
If you recognize signs of stress such as changes in mood, difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol or substance use, talk to your healthcare provider about your situation. You should seek help immediately if you are overwhelmed by stress, feel you can’t cope with your feelings or are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Your healthcare provider is here to help, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK.