Definition

What is stress?

Stress is a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental unrest. 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.

Stress can be good and we call this positive stress. Positive stress helps us to concentrate, focus and it can also literally help us to survive. Our physical stress response helps us to meet challenging situations and is an automatic, essential fact of life. Positive stress helps compel us to action, it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective.

But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects. It can be linked to headaches, an upset stomach, back pain, and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your immune system, making it harder to fight off disease. If you already have a health problem, stress may make it worse. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.

How common is stress?

Stress is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of stress?

Stress may affect us physically, mentally, emotionally and behaviorally. The signs and symptoms include:

  • Physical: fatigue, headache, insomnia, muscle aches/stiffness (especially neck, shoulder and low back), heart palpitations, chest pains, and nausea.
  • Mental: decrease in concentration and memory, indecisiveness, mind racing or going blank, confusion and loss of humor.
  • Emotional: anxiety, nervousness, depression, anger, frustration, worry, fear, irritability, impatience, and short temper.
  • Behavioral: pacing, fidgeting, increased eating, smoking, drinking, crying, yelling, blaming, and even throwing things or hitting.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes stress?

The causes of stress are coined as stressors. This occurs in two forms: external and internal.

  • External stressors: include major life events such as job loss, loss of a loved one or demands placed by the physical environment such as the excessive lighting or noise.
  • Internal stressors: occur within us. We add internal stressors to our lives, for example, if we have unrealistic expectations, negative self-talks or choose a lifestyle where there are excessive caffeine and alcohol and constant lack of sleep.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for stress?

Stress comes in all forms and affects people of all ages and all walks of life. The degree of stress in our lives is highly dependent on individual factors such as our physical health, the quality of our interpersonal relationships, the number of commitments and responsibilities we carry. Also, the degree of others, expectations of us, the amount of support we receive from others, and the number of changes or traumatic events that have recently occurred in our lives.

However, certain factors can enhance our susceptibility to stress or act to reduce its severity. People with strong social support networks (consisting of family, friends, religious organizations, or other social groups) report less stress and overall improved mental health in comparison to those without these social contacts. People who are poorly nourished, who get inadequate sleep, or who are physically unwell also have reduced capabilities to handle the pressures and stresses of everyday life and may report higher stress levels. Some stressors are particularly associated with certain age groups or life stages. Children, teens, college students, working parents, and seniors are examples of the groups who often face common stressors related to life transitions.

People who are providing care for elderly or infirm loved ones may also experience a great deal of stress as caregivers. Having a loved one or family member who is a great deal of stress often increases our own stress levels as well.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is stress diagnosed?

The doctor will rule out any physical or mental illness that may be the cause of the symptoms. The doctor will discuss the patient’s history and circumstances, including identification of any stressors that may be present in the person’s life. The doctor will try to ascertain the level of stress the person is experiencing and their ability to deal with the stress.

How is stress treated?

Treatment for stress relief usually involves a combination of methods that can include lifestyle changes, counseling, and relaxation or stress-management techniques. The treatment of your stress will vary greatly depending on the types of symptoms you are experiencing and how severe they are. Treatment can range from simple reassurance to inpatient care and evaluation in a hospital setting.

Once a careful workup and evaluation by a doctor to rule out medical causes of your symptoms and to assist in identifying stress-related or emotional conditions has occurred, there are several ways to relieve stress. Depending on your personality and lifestyle, one or more of these modalities may be right for you:

  • Regular exercise program;
  • Healthy diet and nutrition habits;
  • Reassurance;
  • Biofeedback as indicated;
  • Yoga or related exercise;
  • Meditation;
  • Acupuncture;
  • Counseling by qualified mental-health professionals, as needed;
  • Medical intervention for any physical problems discovered.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage stress?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with stress:

  • Be aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions. Don’t ignore your distress. Determine what are the things that distress you. Determine how your body responds to the stress. Do you become nervous or physically upset?
  • Recognize what you can change: change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely. Reduce their intensity or frequency. Shorten your exposure to stress (take a break, leave the stressful environment).
  • Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress. Try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
  • Moderate your physical reactions to stress. Try slow, deep breathing exercises. They will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal.
  • Relaxation techniques such as the Jacobson’s Progressive Relaxation Therapy can reduce muscle tension. Using biofeedback can help you gain voluntary control over muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure. Massage and applying heat to the tensed muscles improve blood circulation and helps the muscles to relax.
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle: exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (exercises such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging are good). Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals. Maintain your ideal weight. Avoid nicotine, excessive caffeine, and other stimulants. Get enough sleep and be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
  • Stay emotionally well: establish some mutually supportive friendships/ relationships. Recognize and accept your own feelings and limitations. Pursue realistic goals that are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share. Make time to relax and enjoy yourself. Be kind to yourself.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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