Small bursts of stress can be motivating and beneficial (for example, your in-laws are arriving in a few hours and you need to clean your whole house). But long-term stress caused by working at a breakneck pace for weeks on end or having ongoing money, job, health or relationship problems can severely strain your health and well-being.
The American Psychological Association compares your body’s reaction to stress to the illuminated “check engine” light on a car’s dashboard – it means something is wrong and needs maintenance and extra care. Here are physical and behavioral warning signs that stress may be wearing you down, or worse, leading you toward health ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity or diabetes.*
- Muscle tension or pain
- Dry mouth
- Chest pains, rapid heartbeat**
- Fatigue and difficulty falling asleep
- Upset stomach
- Weakened immune system
- Avoiding social situations
- Lack of concentration
- Memory problems or forgetfulness
- Short temper and angry outbursts
- Sadness or depression
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Tobacco use
- Overeating or skipping meals
Ignoring stress or poorly managing it opens the door for negative thoughts and unhealthy habits to settle in. You may not even be aware stress is getting to you at first, but reaching for “comfort foods” repeatedly or snapping at friends and family because you’re “not in the mood” are signs stress is taking over.
To help reduce stress, try these techniques:
- Remove yourself from the stressor. If possible, take a quick walk or go someplace quiet to take deep breaths. Just a few minutes away from a stressful situation can help clear your mind.
- Reach out to others. Talk with someone who is understanding and may be able to offer solutions, such as a family member, friend or supervisor at work.
- Get some physical activity. The feel-good endorphins and movement of exercise can benefit your mind as well as your body. Try to make exercise a healthy habit. Talk to your doctor about activities that may be best for you.
- Relax and sleep. Give your mind and body a new sense of strength by allowing yourself to recharge. Meditation can help you relax and focus, and getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night can help give you more energy to tackle stressful situations.
- Smile and laugh. Even if you have to “fake it until you make it,” smiling instead of scowling can help relieve tension. Try to unwind with a funny book or movie, or spend time with a friend who makes you laugh.
When the going gets tough and you feel like you can’t keep going, don’t be afraid to seek professional care. Consult your doctor or a mental health professional for guidance. Therapy or medication may give you a new perspective to avoid or reduce stress, help prevent chronic stress from developing into a chronic illness, and promote healthier, happier relationships with others as well as yourself.
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.