Women’s Health

"Good morning...let the stress begin..." wall plaque

What Is Stress?

Everyone—adults, teens, and even children—experiences stress at times. Stress can be beneficial. It can help people develop the skills they need to deal with possible threatening situations throughout life. You can put problems into perspective by finding healthy ways to cope. Getting the right care and support can help reduce stressful feelings and symptoms.

Stress generally refers to two things: the psychological perception of pressure, on the one hand, and the body’s response to it, on the other, which involves multiple systems, from metabolism to muscles to memory. Some stress is necessary for all living systems; it is the means by which they encounter and respond to the challenges and uncertainties of existence. The perception of danger sets off an automatic response system, known as the fight-or-flight response, that, activated through hormonal signals, prepares an animal to meet a threat or flee from it. A stressful event—whether an external phenomenon like the sudden appearance of a snake on the path or an internal event like fear of losing one’s job when the boss yells—triggers a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that surge through the entire body, speeding heartbeat and the circulation of blood to support quick action, mobilizing fat and sugar for fast energy, focusing attention to track the danger, preparing muscles for movement, and more. Lifesaving as the stress response is, it was meant to solve short-term, life-threatening problems, not extended difficulties such as daily traffic jams or marital problems. It generally takes some time for the body to calm down after the stress response has been triggered. Prolonged or repeated arousal of the stress response, a characteristic of modern life, can have harmful physical and psychological consequences, including heart disease and depression.

Common reactions to a stressful event can include:

  • Disbelief, shock, and numbness
  • Feeling sad, frustrated, and helpless
  • Fear and anxiety about the future
  • Feeling guilty
  • Anger, tension, and irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Crying
  • Reduced interest in usual activities
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Nightmares or bad memories
  • Reoccurring thoughts of the event
  • Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
  • Increased heart rate, difficulty breathing
  • Smoking or use of alcohol or drugs

How to Decrease Stress

Over the last few decades, a rising tide of studies has demonstrated the value of regularly engaging in activities that blunt the stress response in one way or another, from meditation to yoga to strenuous physical activity. Since the stress response begins in the brain with the perception of danger or the unknown, researchers now believe that the most basic, and likely most effective, way to defuse stress is to change perception of certain types of situations so that they are not seen as stressful in the first place. Studies show that helping people see certain experiences—such as final exams—as demanding rather than dire protects individuals from the corrosive effects of stress while delivering its positive effects, especially focused attention and speedier information processing. Changing the stress mindset not only minimizes the effects of stress, studies show, but it also enhances performance and productivity.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

Feeling emotional and nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress. Here are some healthy ways you can deal with stress:

  • Take care of yourself.
    • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
    • Exercise on a regular basis
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out
  • Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help with the stress. But in the long run, they create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
  • Take a break. If news events are causing your stress, take a break from listening or watching the news.
  • If you find that you are overreacting to “small stuff” observe what causes the overreaction and work to manage those feelings.
  • Build a positive attitude and focus your energy on things that make you feel good.
  • Laughter is “the best medicine” so be sure to laugh often.
  • Be sure to determine if your focus is on things you can control and not those things that are out of your control as your stress and frustration levels will increase when focused on those things that are beyond your control.
  • Make time for things you enjoy doing to assist in minimizing stress.

 


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