What is stress?
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.
How does stress affect your health?
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. 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. Long-term stress can make you more likely to get sick, and it can make symptoms of some diseases worse. If you tense up when you are stressed, you may develop neck, shoulder, or low back pain. Stress is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Stress also harms your emotional health. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.
What can you do to manage stress?
You can try these things to help manage stress:
- Do something active. Exercise or activity can help reduce stress. Walking is a great way to get started. Even everyday activities such as housecleaning or yard work can help.
- Try yoga or tai chi. These techniques combine exercise and meditation. You may need some training at first to learn them.
- Do something you enjoy. For example, listen to music or go to a movie. Practice your hobby or do volunteer work.
- Meditate. This can help you relax, because you are not worrying about what happened before or what may happen in the future.
- Do guided imagery. Imagine yourself in any setting that helps you feel calm. You can use online videos, books, or a teacher to guide you.
- Do breathing exercises. For example:
- From a standing position, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent. Let your arms dangle close to the floor.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply as you return to a standing position. Roll up slowly and lift your head last.
- Hold your breath for just a few seconds in the standing position.
- Breathe out slowly and bend forward from the waist.
- Let your feelings out. Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to. Talking with supportive friends or family, a counselor, or a faith leader about your feelings is a healthy way to relieve stress. Avoid discussing your feelings with people who make you feel worse.
- Write. It may help to write about things that are bothering you. This helps you find out how much stress you feel and what is causing it. When you know this, you can find better ways to cope.
What can you do to prevent stress?
You might try some of these things to help prevent stress:
- Manage your time. This helps you find time to do the things you want and need to do.
- Get enough sleep. Your body recovers from the stresses of the day while you are sleeping.
- Get support. Your family, friends, and community can make a difference in how you experience stress.
- Limit your news feed. Avoid or limit time on social media or news that may make you feel stressed.
- Do something active. Exercise or activity can help reduce stress. Walking is a great way to get started.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter N032 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Stress".
Current as of: February 27, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Christine R. Maldonado PhD - Behavioral Health