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Tame your stress

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When you're afraid of a real or imagined threat, and you feel like you can't cope with it, your body triggers an automatic stress response:

  • Your nervous system leaps into action.
  • Your heart rate and breathing speed up.
  • Blood rushes to your muscles.

This “fight-or-flight response” is useful if you need to survive, but the same stress response turns on when you face mortgages, criticism, traffic jams, or insecurities.

Repeated stress can contribute to digestive and sleeping problems, cardiovascular disease, reproductive disorders, diminished immunity, and more.

Your relaxation response

The good news is, you also have a relaxation response, a powerful, built-in healing mechanism that offsets the stress response:

  • Your heart rate and breathing slow down.
  • Your blood pressure decreases.
  • Your body metabolism slows.
  • Your muscles relax.

Relieve stress and feel better

There are lots of ways you can manage your natural reaction to stress:

Sleep well
6 simple ways to relieve stress
Calm waters: how to practice mindfulness
Relax with deep breathing or guided imagery
Soothe your symptoms
Create your own anti-stress plan

When to get help

If your stress seems overwhelming and starts to affect your ability to live your life normally, you may need help from a professional.

Contact your doctor if you are feeling anxious, depressed, or have overwhelming emotions for 2 or more weeks.

If someone is threatening or hurting you, tell your doctor. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (toll free) if you need immediate help.

Source: Adapted with permission from the Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Handbook (as published under the title Mind & Body Health Handbook), David Sobel, MD, and Robert Ornstein, PhD, 1996

Reviewed by: Andrew Bertagnolli, PhD, November 2015
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

©2015 Kaiser Permanente