April 17, 2024

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The Role of Stress in Health and How to Manage it?

3 min read

There’s no doubt that stress impacts health in multiple ways. It can cause bad habits such as drinking and smoking, and it contributes to a number of mental health issues like anxiety.

It can also lead to major life upheavals such as divorce, moving house and loss of a job. Moreover, ongoing stress can cause a range of physical problems including headaches and stomach aches.

Stress Management

Stress is a part of life, but ongoing high-grade or low-grade stress can affect your health. Noticing what triggers stress, such as relationship issues, long commutes, financial worries or working a lot of hours, is the first step in taking action to prevent stress.

Some stressors are predictable, such as the daily commute or frequent arguments with your spouse. But there are also things you can control, such as your diet and alcohol or caffeine intake.

For example, when a department head in a small service organization noticed increasing stress levels and health symptoms among her staff, she held an informal series of meetings to discuss the issue. These helped staff to identify and address the sources of their stress. The result was a reduction in stress-related health problems.

Exercise

Stress activates the body’s “fight or flight” response, a physical reaction that releases adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream, increases heart rate and raises blood pressure. While this is useful in helping us run from saber-toothed tigers, ongoing chronic stress keeps the body in that heightened state, which hurts our health.

Regular exercise, even a 20-minute walk daily, balances the nervous system and helps to flush out stress hormones. Adding fun activities to your schedule like dancing or going for hikes can also help to reduce stress.

Avoid unhealthy ways of coping with stress such as drinking too much, smoking, overeating or using illegal substances. Instead, seek out healthy ways to relieve stress such as getting enough sleep, eating a plant-based diet, exercising regularly and staying socially connected.

Sleep

The body’s response to stress is the “fight-or-flight” reaction, triggered by hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that speed the heart rate, slow digestion and shunt blood to major muscle groups to give you a burst of strength. When a perceived threat is gone, systems should return to normal. But chronic or long-term stress keeps you in a state of heightened alertness, suppressing your immune system and leading to problems such as high blood pressure, gastrointestinal issues, headaches and depression.

The good news is that you can change how your brain and body respond to stress. Try to eat well, exercise regularly and prioritize sleep. Stay positive and seek support from family and friends. It also helps to practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and tai chi.

Nutrition

People can help themselves by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly and connecting socially. These are all proven stress-buffering activities.

When people experience a threat or challenge, their bodies produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that raise blood pressure and heart rate. This is a protective reaction that enabled our ancient ancestors to run away from saber-toothed tigers or fight off one. But when people experience chronic stress, the body stays in a heightened state for too long, which can cause health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

To help reduce stress, people should group things that worry them into categories such as those with a practical solution, those that will improve over time and those they can’t change or control. Then they can practice letting go of those that don’t matter.

Mental Health

Stress is a part of life, and everyone feels it. But ongoing stress can actually harm your health.

It can cause mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. And it can worsen symptoms of some mental health conditions, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

If you’re stressed, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope with it. Talking to friends and family, getting exercise, eating a balanced diet and drinking lots of water are all good options. Avoid using unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking or bingeing on junk food. And don’t forget to get enough sleep. Aim for at least seven hours a night. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, try relaxing techniques, such as listening to music or reading. You can also seek help from a charity, such as Samaritans or StepChange.

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