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Stress is your body's response to a hard situation. Your body can have a physical, emotional, or mental response. Stress is a fact of life for most people, and it affects everyone differently. What causes stress for you may not be stressful for someone else.
A lot of things can cause stress. You may feel stress when you go on a job interview, take a test, or run a race. This kind of short-term stress is normal and even useful. It can help you if you need to work hard or react quickly. For example, stress can help you finish an important job on time.
Long-term stress is caused by ongoing stressful situations or events. Examples of long-term stress include long-term health problems, ongoing problems at work, or conflicts in your family. Long-term stress can harm your health.
What causes stress for you may not cause stress for someone else. Only you can figure out whether you have too much stress in your life.
Answer these questions to learn more about your stress:
Here are some ways to relieve stress.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
A lot of things can cause stress. You may feel stress when you go on a job interview, take a test, or run a race. These kinds of short-term stress are normal. Long-term (chronic) stress is caused by stressful situations or events that last over a long period of time, like problems at work or conflicts in your family. Over time, chronic stress can lead to severe health problems.
Stress is a normal part of life, and everyone experiences it. There is a lot you can do to help avoid it and manage it.
A traumatic event is a very upsetting event that you see or that happens to you or a loved one. It may threaten someone's life or cause serious injury. It can be a one-time event, like a sexual assault or a car crash. Or it may be ongoing, such as abuse or severe illness.
When you are stressed, your body responds as though you are in danger. It makes hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster, and give you a burst of energy. This is called the fight-or-flight stress response. Other symptoms include headache, sweating and sweaty palms, an upset stomach, nausea, and diarrhea. If the stress is over quickly, your body goes back to normal, and no harm is done.
But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects on both your physical and emotional health.
Long-term stress can make you more likely to get sick, and it can make symptoms of some diseases worse. Stress can affect your:
Stress also harms your emotional health. You might notice signs of stress in the way you think, act, and feel. You may:
Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.
Stress is a fact of life for most people. But it affects everyone differently. What causes stress for you may not cause stress for someone else. That's because how you view a situation affects how much stress it causes you. Only you can figure out whether you have too much stress in your life.
There are lots of ways to relax. Some are designed to relax your mind and some to relax your body. But because of the way the mind and body are connected, many relaxation methods work on both the mind and the body.
You may want to try one or more of these mind-relaxation tips to see what works best for you.
The goal of mindful meditation is to focus your attention on things that are happening right now in the present moment. For example, listen to your body. Is your breathing fast, slow, deep, or shallow? Do you hear noises, such as traffic, or do you hear only silence? The idea is just to note what is happening without trying to change it. This may take some practice.
It may help to write about things that are bothering you. Write for 10 to 15 minutes a day about stressful events and how they made you feel. Or think about tracking your stress. For example, write down what was happening when you felt the stress, and how intense the stress was. This helps you find out what is causing your stress and how much stress you feel.
With guided imagery, you imagine yourself in a certain setting that helps you feel calm and relaxed. You can use online videos, scripts, or a teacher to guide you through the process.
Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to. Talking with friends, family, a counselor, or a spiritual adviser about your feelings is a healthy way to relieve stress.
You may feel that you're too busy to do these things. But making time to do something you enjoy can help you relax. Try:
You may want to try one or more of these body-relaxation tips to see what works best for you.
Regular exercise is one way to manage stress. Walking is a great way to get started. Even everyday activities such as housecleaning or yard work can reduce stress. Stretching can also relieve muscle tension.
Try herbal tea or warm milk, for example.
Biofeedback teaches you how to use your mind to control skin temperature, muscle tension, heart rate, or blood pressure. All of these things can be affected by stress.
You might try some of these things to help prevent stress:
Stress is a part of life. But it doesn't have to control your life. Even if sometimes you can't avoid stress, you can build skills to respond to it in a healthy way. Here are a few ideas.
Try activities that reduce stress, like meditation, deep breathing, physical activity, and making art. New behaviors take time to develop. Try doing one thing at a time.
Take some time to think about the things that are important to you and things you enjoy. These might be safe things that make you feel happy, excited, or energized. Some examples are reading a book, playing with your dog, or seeing friends. You might schedule this ahead of time by putting it on your to-do list or calendar.
Think about taking time to do this each day. Try setting limits on when you use devices. For example, try avoiding social media and email before 7:00 a.m. and after 8:00 p.m. Setting your phone to "do not disturb" or using apps that track or block your screen time can help. Make rules that feel right to you.
Try writing down thoughts and feelings about a stressful experience. Set aside time each day to write about it. Write nonstop and don't screen your thoughts—give yourself permission to write what comes to mind.
Everyone needs help sometimes. Ask others how they find support. You might also want to see a counselor who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The counselor can help you create and use skills to cope with stress.
Changing how you think about and respond to stress can help you feel happier and healthier. So be kind to yourself. Try to see both sides of a situation. Be thankful for people you care about, and accept what isn't perfect in yourself and others.
Coping well with stress is something we all want. When we're able to manage stress, we perform better at work, have stronger relationships, experience more joy, and are more resilient and flexible.
When you've tried to do something about the stress in your life in the past, did you start out strong and then lose a little steam? If so, that's okay. Many people struggle with sticking to a new change. It's part of being human.
You probably learned something about yourself from times in the past when you took a little time for yourself to manage stress. And you can use that knowledge to help strengthen or change your approach for where you are in your life right now.
Before you think about what you might do now, it can help to think of your past. Ask yourself: In the past, when I was doing something that was good for my stress level, what did I like about that?
When you have that answer, ask yourself "why?" And then ask "why?" again—and maybe even again. Here's an example of what that could look like:
Reminding yourself why you want to do something (not why you should do something), can help you stick with it. We're much more likely to do things we feel we want, rather than things that feel like a to-do item.
Take a minute to think about what you've tried in the past. Was it something you really enjoyed? Was it too hard to follow through? Remember: Something as small as taking five deep breaths or taking a walk around the block can change your whole mind-set.
Here are some ideas to help you get back on track:
Try thinking about these questions, and write down your thoughts.
Support in your life from family, friends, and your community has a big impact on how you deal with stress. Having support in your life can help you stay healthy.
Support means having the love, trust, and advice of others. But support can also be something more concrete, like time or money. It can be hard to ask for help. But we all need support at times, and there are people who want to help. If you feel stressed, you can look for support from:
Current as of:
June 25, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: June 25, 2023
Clinical Review Board:
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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