Stress is a normal part of everyday living and can be caused by either positive or negative events. It becomes a problem when it interferes with your sense of well-being and affects your ability to be productive. Too much stress can affect your health.
Symptoms of Stress
When you are stressed, you may experience the following:
- Feel worried or anxious
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Be unable to relax; feel jittery, jumpy or restless
- Be irritable and impatient
- An upset stomach
- Urinate frequently
- Sweat a lot
- Cold or clammy hands
- Experience hot or cold spells
- Notice unexplained body aches
- Dry mouth
- Feel tingling in your hands or feet
- Pounding or racing heart
Your stress response (also known as the “fight-freeze-flight response”) is triggered by a threat. Your body responds automatically to this threat, whether it’s real or imagined.
The physical response can include surging hormones and nerve signals, an increase in heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and metabolism.
Effects of Stress
Everyday stress can make us feel jittery, edgy and nervous, but saying that stress causes disease is an oversimplification. More accurately, stress appears to lower the body’s resistance to illness. Although everyday stress doesn’t seem to be a health hazard, it does resemble chronic stress. Major life disruptions cause feelings of distress and suppress the immune system. Serious stress can also trigger allergies or a recurrence of herpes. It can impair cardiovascular health by raising blood pressure and heart rate.
When stress levels remain too high for too long, it can result in consequences.
These may include stomach ulcers, worsening asthma and lowered immunity (which may lead to infectious illness). Your thoughts, feelings and moods have a significant impact on your health.
Distress Prevention and Wellness
Our bodies have powerful healing systems that help keep us well. People with the following traits often cope best with stress:
- Strong social ties – Good friendships, family relationships and community involvement
- Spirituality – A sense of deep meaning in life; a connection to self and others
- Positive outlook – Hope, optimism, a sense of humor and an unselfish concern for others
- The three C’s – A feeling of challenge, a sense of personal commitment, and the belief that we have control over our lives
These people enjoy good health, high energy and a strong sense of well-being. They seem to heal faster from illness, experience fewer colds (and other immune-related illnesses) and enjoy increased longevity and vitality.
Tips That Work
There’s no escaping it: The first step is to recognize the source of the stress that is upsetting you. You may not be able to change the source of stress, so try to change the way you respond to it. Keep an organizer to deal with responsibilities on time and stay focused on the present, rather than worrying about the past and future.
- Nourish your body with good nutrition, plenty of sleep, four to eight glasses of water daily and limit caffeine and alcohol. Exercise at least three times a week. Whether it’s a long bike ride or a quick walk, exercise is a proven method of tension release.
- Seek balance from stress. Cultivate a positive outlook; seek out and expect positive experiences.
- Laugh at least once a day to brighten your mood, lower stress, raise your pain threshold and enhance your resistance.
- Balance your study time with pleasurable activities. Enjoy good friends and social occasions, good food, sport, natural beauty, music and art.
Many of us who manage our outside lives skillfully are often clueless when it comes to knowing how to fully relax. Here are some tips:
- Observe how your mind and body respond to events (notice when you tense up and when you relax).
- Make tension release a habit: Tense each muscle group for 10 seconds, then suddenly release them. Notice the difference. Stretch your neck (chin to chest, chin to each shoulder, ear to each shoulder, gaze at the sky). Stretch muscles and take deep breaths anywhere, anytime.
- Balance high energy output with relaxation, such as meditation, visualization, and/or prayer. These focus the mind, open the heart and slow down the body. You can quietly reach a “still point.” Here the mind is calm and clearly aware, stress is released and both the mind and body relax.
- Imagery: Concentration on an image that is peaceful and ignites a sense of beauty. See yourself as relaxed, successful and happy.
Remember, practicing balance, relaxation and seeking help are not signs of weakness. They are intelligent ways of taking care of yourself.