Stressed out? Read this
The world can be a stressful place.
About 44 percent of American adults are struggling with moderate to high stress that has increased in just the last five years, according to the American Psychological Association.
The top stressors are no surprise: money, work and the economy. In fact, money was cited as a source of stress more than twice as often as more imminent threats, like personal safety.
But is all stress bad? If not, when can stress work in our favor? In recognition of Stress Awareness Month in April, health enews asked Dr. Tony Hampton, a family medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group, for his insight on how to handle stress:
What exactly is stress?
Stress is simply how our brains and bodies respond to the demands placed on it. It can be a sudden event, a long-term negative situation or just the daily demands of life. These can trigger the body to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that help us quickly react to real or perceived threats.
Let’s say you’re being attacked by a dog, for example. The adrenaline and cortisol fuel your muscles to fight or flee. This surges the body’s blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar. The body is equipped to regulate its stress response, and calm down when the threat is over. But when stress is prolonged, like after a job loss, the body’s stress response stays turned on. This can eventually develop into chronic health disorders like hypertension and heart disease.
How can stress harm our health?
There are dozens of ways stress can wreak havoc on our bodies and moods. It can cause
- high blood pressure
- unexplained depression, anxiety or anger
- weak immune response
- weight gain
- complications for people who have asthma
- complications for people who have arthritis
Is there a good kind of stress?
Some stress can actually help us to operate at peak performance, have clear thoughts and make us feel more in control of our circumstances. The right kind of stress can stimulate us in good ways. For example, during a dog attack, the stress response from adrenaline and cortisone could actually save your life. Using stress to be proactive rather than reactive allows you to be more in control of life’s situations.
Can you suggest some ways to cope with stress?
Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables with a minimum of refined sugars and fats gives your body a strong defense against the harmful effects of stress. Turns out, however that most Americans do just the opposite, according to the American Psychological Association’s survey. About a third of adults are skipping meals and 40 percent are pigging out because of stress.
Maintain healthy relationships and regular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day can also help with coping with stress.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, talk with your primary care physician who can help you or refer you to a mental health professional.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.