Stress is a physical and mental response to a situation or occurrence perceived to be threatening. It is a natural reaction. The stress response helps us adjust and stay alert to avoid danger. For example, when you feel stressed about an upcoming exam, the body’s reaction may help you to stay awake longer to study. However, stress can become a problem if you have it long-term without relaxation.
Stress is the reaction to the experience you face. It can cause changes in heart rate, breathing, and vision. The body’s autonomic nervous system has a “fight-or-flight response” to help you deal with stress. However, long-term stress can cause the body to respond to stress incessantly, leading to constant exhaustion over time. You may start to develop physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms as follows:
- Chest pain
- Pounding heart
- Difficulty sleeping
- Body aches and pains, muscle tension, or jaw clenching
- Digestive problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Weakened immunity.
People with chronic stress may develop unhealthy behaviors, such as
- Eating disorder
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Drug abuse
- Compulsive shopping
When should I see a doctor?
It is normal to feel stressed. Seek medical attention if everything is overwhelming or you start to drink alcohol or use addictive substances, or you think about suicide or hurting yourself. Your doctor can give you some advice on how to cope with stress.
Stress is subjective and different for each person and cannot be measured. How it affects you is entirely based on self-reporting. Your doctor may ask you to answer questionnaires assessing your stress and its impact on your life. If you have chronic stress and develop symptoms due to stress, such as high blood pressure, your doctor can help you treat those symptoms and give you recommendations on how to deal with stress.
Though stress is not circumventable, some strategies can help you cope with everyday stress.
- Be mindful of your feelings. Notice when you feel stressed. Try to exercise as it can improve your mood.
- Appreciate what you have achieved, even though they are little things.
- Set a short-term goal to help you feel that you can get things done.
- Consult a therapist if your worries are overwhelming.
To prevent developing excessive stress, you can try different strategies as follows:
- Take care of your physical health. Eating healthily, exercising regularly, and having adequate sleep can help you cope with stress better.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
- Avoid negative thoughts. Stay positive and be thankful for the little good things in your life.
- Learn how to say “No” to extra work when you are too busy or overwhelmed.
- Do things that make you smile and learn to accept that you cannot control everything.
- Connect with your loved ones, friends, or people that make you laugh. They can be your emotional support to help you through your problems and not feel isolated.