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Stress: What is it?

Although stress effects all of us differently, it’s certain that stress has impacted us in at least some way throughout our lives. Stress is everywhere, from busy times at work, trying to manage finances, coping with the challenges of a relationship or even when things arise with our children.

Stress can also mean different things to different people, since our prior experiences or upbringing can have an impact on how we handle stressful situations and some of the physical symptoms we may endure.

In this Health Journal, we dive deep into what exactly stress is, how it effects our bodies and also provide a few tips to help you the next time you feel stressed out.

What is stress?

At its core, stress is essentially the body’s reaction to harmful situations, whether they are real or perceived. When you find yourself in a threatening situation, a chemical reaction occurs in the body that helps you prevent injury which is known as the “fight-or-flight” response. A few common symptoms you might experience during the stress response are increased heart rate, your breathing will quicken and blood pressure will rise. Again, these responses from your body are designed to protect you.

As we mentioned above, stress means different things to different people and some are better able to handle it then others. It’s important to remember that not all stress is bad stress and in small doses it can be beneficial in helping us accomplish tasks and prevent us from getting hurt.

Now that we know a little bit about stress and how our bodies react, it’s also important to know that there are two main types of stress and we have listed them below.

  • Acute stress: This is short-term stress that goes away quickly and you can feel it in situations when you slam on your brakes, have a fight with your partner or ski down a steep slope. The short-term stress helps you manage dangerous situations and also occurs when you try something new or exciting.
  • Chronic stress: This is stress that lasts for a longer period of time and you may experience this kind of stress if you have significant trouble at work or possibly an unhappy marriage. Stress that goes on for weeks or months at a time is known as chronic and you may become so used to this feeling that you don’t realize it’s a problem. It’s important however, to find ways to manage this stress or it may lead to long-term health problems.

Symptoms of stress:

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including emotions, behaviors, thinking ability and physical health. Since we handle stress differently, symptoms can vary from person to person and these symptoms can be vague or be similar to those caused by other medical conditions. Below are a few common symptoms you might experience, but as always, it’s important to discuss these with your doctor.

Emotional symptoms:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless
  • Avoiding others

Physical symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Aches, pains and tense muscles
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgement

Helpful ways to manage stress:

Now that we know some symptoms you may experience with stress and how our bodies respond, it’s important to know how you might make things a little easier. We have included a few tips to help with your stress that might make it more manageable to deal with.

  • Exercise: Working out on a regular basis is one of the best ways to relax your body and mind. Exercise will improve your mood and it is recommended that you do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week. Remember, even if you can’t hit this recommended goal per week, any exercise is better than no exercise at all.
  • Relax your muscles: Stress can cause your muscles to get tense, so loosening them up can be a great way to refresh your body. Some ways to do this include stretching, enjoying a massage, taking a hot bath or shower and getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Eat well: Eating a well-balanced diet will help you feel better generally but it can also help control your moods. It is recommended that your meals include vegetables, fruit, whole grains and a lean source of protein. Skipping meals can also be detrimental when dealing with stress, so try to eat on a schedule and try not to miss.
  • Take a break: Planning some downtime will give your mind some time off from the stress and give you something to look forward too. Some ideas for activities to help rest include meditation, yoga or just listening to your favorite music.






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