What is stress? According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), stress is the brain's response to any demand, usually triggered by change. This stress-causing change can be a positive or negative, real or perceived, long-term or short-term, major or minor, harmful or harmless.
Not all stress is bad- stress; responses that follow dangerous situations can save your life by heightening your senses and trigger a "fight-or-flight" response to threats. However, chronic stress can cause that same "fight-or-flight" response to be triggered within the body for a lengthy period of time and cause digestive problems, headaches, sleeplessness, depressive moods, anger, and irritability. Chronic, or long-lasting, stress can also cause repeated and serious viral infections due to the body being worn down from a constant state of the "fight-or-flight" response.
According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS) the top causes of stress in the US in 2014 were job stress, the top stressor, followed by money, then health, then relationships, then poor nutrition, then media overload, and finally sleep deprivation. Many of these top stressors are direct symptoms of being stressed out. When we get into a pattern of long-term stress, a cycle is created. The stress continues to build up and makes the problems associated more significant. Continued strain from the stress cycle on the body over time, can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and/or anxiety disorder.
Reducing stress levels can make you feel better, immediately and in the long run.
Here are some stress coping tips from the NIH and American Psychological Association (APA):
- Seek the help of a qualified mental health care provider
- Seek out medical care for the side effects related to stress
- Seek out support through friends, family, and/or community/religious organizations
- Identify what is causing the stress and walk away when possible
- Schedule times for relaxing activities such as meditation or yoga
- Gentle exercise, just 30 minutes a day. can help reduce stress
- Do not dwell on stressors, instead focus on the positives
If you or someone you know is overwhelmed by stress and is in crisis, call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-(800) 273-8255).
Information provided by Abigail Willett, student intern with Community Outreach at Augusta Health. To contact Dana Breeding, RN, relating to the information in this article or with questions/comments/concerns, please call (540) 332-4988 or (540) 932-4988.