We hate being stressed and it’s not good for our health, so here’s how to cope with it better.
Whether due to family, work, financial or personal struggles, we all experience some stress in our lives. While a certain amount of stress is normal and can help us perform better, chronic stress can be hazardous to our health. That’s why it’s a good idea to reduce the stress in your life as much as possible.
Here are some ways chronic stress may affect your health:
- Heart health: A constant release of stress hormones may contribute to heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Long-term stress may even lead to a heart attack.
- Immune system: Chronic stress suppresses our immune system, making it easier to get sick and harder to recover from illnesses.
- Headache/muscle pain: Stress may cause chronic muscle tension in the shoulders, neck and throughout the body. This tension may also lead to headaches and migraines.
- Reproductive issues: In men, chronic stress may lower libido and cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Stress may affect women’s libido, menstrual cycles and the ability to get pregnant.
- Digestive problems: Your digestive system may respond negatively to stress, leading to heartburn, acid reflux, diarrhea or even vomiting.
- Mental health: Stress can cause irritability, aggression and sadness, which may lead to long-term issues such as depression, anxiety or burnout.
Stress may also spur these behaviors, which can have an effect on your mental and physical health:
- Drinking: Having an occasional drink to relax after a hard day may be harmless. But if you start drinking most nights to reduce stress, it could lead down a dangerous path toward alcoholism.
- Smoking: While smoking may relax you in the moment, your body learns to crave cigarettes when you need stress relief, causing you to smoke more. This can contribute to health issues.
- Drug use: Stress increases our vulnerability to many types of addiction. Self-medicating can lead to becoming addicted to the drugs we are using, even over-the-counter drugs like sleep aids.
- Eating habits: Stress may lead to eating much more or much less than usual, causing unhealthy weight gain or weight loss.
- Sleep quality: Stress may get in the way of quality sleep. This is a vicious cycle because when we get less sleep, we feel tired, sluggish and even more stressed the following day.
Relationships: If you aren’t feeling your best, you’re probably not acting your best around others. This can damage relationships, which can have a major effect on your mental health.
How to Cope with Stress
Making small changes to your daily routine can have a big impact on helping you manage stress. Here are a few good stress-busters:
- Just breathe: When you’re in a high stress moment, inhale for 10 seconds and then exhale for the same amount of time. Repeat until you feel yourself calm down.
- Exercise regularly: Burn off stress and anxiety by doing something physically active, like walking, running, dancing or boxing.
- Sleep more: Allow yourself time to get 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Make changes to your nighttime routine to help you ease into sleep.
- Find “me” time: Commit to taking at least 15 minutes for yourself each day. Meditate, read a book, do yoga or enjoy any activity that helps provide stress relief.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Mental health professionals can often provide advice and targeted tips to help you more effectively manage stress. To find out more about St. Joseph’s Behavioral Health Center’s services, please visit dignityhealth.org/stockton/behavioralhealth.
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Date Last Reviewed: November 18, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD