Stress is a brain and body response to an internal or external, such as performance expectations at school, work or in your home, a traumatic or lifechanging event, an illness, your expectations for yourself, or a global pandemic. Some stress is good, however. It keeps us motivated, and triggers our flight or fight response when in danger.
But when stress becomes too frequent or too severe, it can be damaging to your physical and mental health. Symptoms can be subtle, and include loss of sleep, sadness, anger, or irritability. It can also affect your digestion, sleep, endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems, and more. Stress can affect your mental health as well; chronic stress can trigger or worsen anxiety, depression, and substance use.
Pay attention to your stress triggers, how you respond, and if it’s time to make a change. It could save your life.
Recognize your triggers and responses. Recognizing what triggers your stress and your body’s response can help you avoid triggers if you can or cope better if you can’t. You may recognize your triggers cause you to lose sleep, abuse a substance such as alcohol, feel irritable, or have low energy. Recognizing these responses can help you turn to more constructive, stress-reducing activities.
Practice self-compassion. Sometimes stress comes from the expectations we put on ourselves. Stepping back and rethinking what is most important in your life will help you prioritize and allow room for self-care and time to do what you enjoy.
Self-advocate. Don’t wait for your health care provider to ask about your stress. Talk about your new or worsening symptoms even if they don’t bring it up. They can suggest effective treatments that can help if your stress is affecting your relationships or ability to work.
Get regular exercise and eat a balanced diet. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your health. There are also a lot of activities you can do from the comfort of your home. Eating a balanced diet can also help relieve stress as it helps your body work efficiently and process stress.
Do something relaxing. Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.
Set goals and priorities. Recognize what is important to you instead of worrying about meeting external expectations. Learn to say, “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Focus on what you accomplished at the end of the day, not what you were unable to do.
Ask for help. Keep in touch with people who can provide emotional support and practical help. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
If you’re overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a health professional. You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs or alcohol more frequently as a result of stress. Your doctor may be able to provide a recommendation.