Stress is the normal human reaction that occurs to everyone. In fact, our human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When you go through changes or challenges (stressors), your body produces physical and mental responses. That is stress.
Stress responses help your body to adapt to new situations. Stress could be positive, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. For instance, if you have an important test coming up, a stress response may help your body work harder and stay awake longer. But stress becomes an issue when stressors go on without relief or periods of relaxation.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BODY DURING STRESS?
The body’s autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate, respiration, vision changes, and more. Its built-in stress response, the “fight-or-flight response,” helps the body cope with stressful situations.
When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear in the body. Physical, emotional, as well as behavioral symptoms, develop.
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain or a sensation like your heart is racing
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
- Headaches, dizziness, or shaking
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Trouble having sex
- Weak immune system
Stress could lead to emotional and mental symptoms such as:
- Anxiety or irritability
- Panic attacks
Usually, people with chronic stress try to manage it with unhealthy behaviors, including:
- Drinking alcohol too much or too often
- Overeating or developing an eating disorder
- Participating compulsively in sex, shopping, or surfing the Internet
- Using drugs
HOW IS STRESS DIAGNOSED?
Stress is subjective — it’s not measurable by tests. Only the person experiencing it could determine whether it is present and how severe it feels. A healthcare provider might use questionnaires to understand your stress and how it affects your life.
If you have chronic stress, your healthcare provider could evaluate symptoms that result from stress. For example, high blood pressure could be diagnosed and treated.
WHAT ARE SOME STRATEGIES FOR STRESS RELIEF?
You cannot avoid stress, but you could stop it from becoming overwhelming by practicing some daily strategies:
- Exercise when you experience stress-related symptoms. Even a short walk could boost your mood.
- At the end of each day, take a moment to think about what you have achieved — not what you did not get done.
- Set aims for your day, week, and month. Narrowing your view will make you feel more in control of the moment and long-term tasks.
- Consider talking to a therapist or your healthcare provider about your concerns.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO PREVENT STRESS?
Many daily strategies could help you keep stress at bay:
- Try relaxation activities, like meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation. Programs are available online, in smartphone apps, and at several gyms and community centers.
- Take good care of your body every day. Eating right, exercising, and getting adequate sleep help your body handle stress much better.
- Stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good parts of your day or your life.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Figure out ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change.
- Learn to say “no” to extra responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed.
- Stay connected with people who keep you calm, make you happy, offer emotional support and help you with practical things. A friend, family member, or neighbor could become a good listener or share responsibilities so that stress does not become overwhelming.
HOW LONG DOES STRESS LAST?
Stress could be a short-term issue or a long-term problem, depending on what changes in your life. Regularly using stress management techniques could help you avoid most physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms of stress.
WHEN IS IT NECESSARY TO TALK TO A DOCTOR ABOUT STRESS?
You should seek medical attention if you feel overwhelmed if you are using drugs or alcohol to cope with the situation, or if you have thoughts about hurting yourself. Your primary care provider could help by offering advice, prescribing medicine, or referring you to a therapist.
Note – It is natural and normal to be stressed sometimes. But long-term stress could cause physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, and unhealthy behaviors. Try relieving and managing stress using some simple strategies. But if you feel overwhelmed, speak to your doctor.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from stress, our expert providers at Specialty Care Clinics