In today’s busy world, we’re pulled in many directions at once. We have responsibilities at home and at work, and sometimes it all just becomes too much. Our bodies start to let us know that we’re feeling the stress of our daily lives. Feelings of stress are caused by your body’s instinct to defend itself. This instinct is good in emergencies, such as when you need to get out of the way of a speeding car. But stress can cause unhealthy physical symptoms if it isn’t managed properly.
Your body is working overtime as it deals with daily challenges. You’re just not equipped to deal with all the extra energy. You may start to feel anxious, afraid, worried, and uptight. If your stress isn’t kept under control, it can lead to serious health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
You may also be dealing with major life events that can cause stress. These can include:
- Losing a job (or starting a new one).
- Your child leaving or returning home.
- The death of your spouse.
- Divorce or marriage.
- Illness or injury for you or a close family member.
- Money problems.
- Having or adopting a baby.
Path to improved well being
Stress can cause health problems or make existing problems worse. Talk to your family doctor if you think your symptoms could be caused by stress. It's important to make sure that they aren't caused by other health problems.
Learn to recognize when you're feeling stressed. Early warning signs of stress include tension in your shoulders and neck, or clenching your hands into fists. Try to avoid the event or situation that leads to your stress. If that’s impossible, change how you react to stress.
- Exercise. It’s a healthy way to relieve your pent-up energy and tension. Exercising releases feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins. It also helps you get in shape physically, which makes you feel better overall.
- Eat right. Stress can affect your appetite. Make sure you’re eating regular, well-balanced meals.
- Get some sleep. It’s important to get enough sleep so your body has time to repair itself.
- Meditate. Meditation is a form of guided thought. It can take many forms. You can do it with exercise that uses the same motions over and over, like walking or swimming. You can meditate by practicing relaxation training, by stretching, or by breathing deeply.
- Relaxation training is simple. Start with one muscle. Hold it tight for a few seconds and then relax. Do this with each of your muscles, beginning with the toes and feet and working your way up through the rest of your body.
- Stretching can also help relieve tension. Roll your head in a gentle circle. Reach toward the ceiling and bend side to side slowly. Roll your shoulders.
- Deep, relaxed breathing by itself may help relieve stress. This helps you get plenty of oxygen and activates your body’s relaxation response.
- Let go. Don’t worry about things you can’t control, such as the weather.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Solve the little problems. This can help you gain a feeling of control.
- Be ready. Prepare to the best of your ability for events you know may be stressful, such as a job interview.
- Chin up. Try to look at change as a positive challenge, not as a threat.
- Work it out. Resolve conflicts with other people.
- Talk it out. Discuss what’s bothering you with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor.
- Keep it real. Set realistic goals at home and at work. Avoid overscheduling.
- Have some fun. Participate in something you don’t find stressful, such as sports, social events, or hobbies.
- Just say no. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. They can actually increase your stress levels.
When to see your doctor
Below is a list of symptoms you may encounter when you’re feeling stressed. If you’ve tried the tips above and feel that you still need help managing your stress, visit your family doctor.
Typical signs of stress
- back pain
- constipation or diarrhea
- high blood pressure
- trouble sleeping or insomnia
- problems with relationships
- shortness of breath
- stiff neck or jaw
- upset stomach
- weight gain or loss
Questions to ask your doctor
- What can I do to fall asleep easier?
- I’m exercising and eating healthy. What else can I do to stay healthy and not feel so stressed?
- Do you recommend medicines if I can’t keep my stress and anxiety under control?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.