Stop the Stress: Your Health Depends on It

Financial constraints. Job pressures. Family obligations. Stress comes in many forms and is considered a normal part of life. While mild stress can actually be beneficial by helping to enhance your focus and increase alertness in certain situations, severe and prolonged stress can have serious implications for your overall health. April is Stress Awareness Month, which provides the perfect opportunity to learn about the consequences of stress and commit to controlling it for better overall health, wellness, and vitality.

When we experience stress, the body responds by releasing a mix of adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is a hormone that increases your heart rate, spikes blood pressure, and leads to a surge in energy levels. Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is a life-sustaining hormone that affects a number of important bodily systems. It greatly influences one’s blood pressure, metabolism, immune system, inflammatory response, and cardiovascular function, just to name a few key areas. The body is equipped to handle occasional stress episodes as long as a period of relaxation follows, during which cortisol levels can return to a healthy range.

On the other hand, chronic stress involves the release of cortisol over an extended period of time. This type of sustained stress can lead to anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, and a weakened immune system, in addition to the development of serious illnesses like heart disease, obesity and depression. In fact, it is estimated that stress causes or complicates 90 percent of all diseases. In addition to physical health issues, individuals who suffer from extended periods of stress may also experience a range of exhausting emotions, including anger, anxiety, helplessness, restlessness, or being easily agitated.

Given all the physical and emotional health consequences of stress, learning to control it can be a true lifesaver and make for a healthier, happier you. Try the following stress management techniques to help keep your stress level in check.

Recognize the source

One of the most important first steps to managing stress is determining its underlying cause. Are you worrying and losing sleep over things that haven’t even happened yet? You may be creating unnecessary stress for yourself by focusing on hypothetical situations. What will I do if I don’t get accepted into graduate school? How will we make ends meet if my spouse loses his job? Don’t get lost in “what could” happen and instead focus on things you CAN control in the present.

Lean on someone

Navigating through stressful situations is always easier with a buddy. Confide in a friend or family member you can trust and allow yourself to receive support. Talk through your emotions and resist the urge to bottle them up so you can have a clear head and feel more at ease overall.

Relax your mind

Practicing meditation and mindful breathing techniques can help relax your body and mind and melt away stress. To relieve tension, close your eyes and take deep breaths while trying to completely relax each individual muscle group one at a time, starting with your head and neck and working all the way down to your toes.

Get (SWEAT) therapy

When we are stressed out and pressed for time, exercising is often the first thing we kick to the curb. However, it is one of the most effective stress management techniques in the book. Exercise releases chemicals in the body called endorphins that promote feelings of happiness and positivity and help to reduce stress. Get your heart rate up by going for a walk, jogging, or doing yoga exercises. Being active, even for a short time, will help increase your energy and improve your overall mood.

Snooze for less stress

Don’t skimp on getting adequate shut-eye. Sleeping has important healing powers that help rejuvenate and re-energize the body and fuel our daily activities. Be good to yourself and get plenty of rest to combat the stress of everyday life. It will help reset your system both mentally and physically and help you be more optimistic no matter what you may be facing. If you suspect you may have a sleep disorder, check out these common signs and symptoms.

If you experience prolonged stress, anxiety or depression and need professional help to manage it, a Harbin Clinic primary care physician or specialist can help. Call 888.427.2461 for more information or to set up an appointment.