Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D., L.P.
Behavioral Health, Psychiatry & Psychology
Everyone reacts to stress differently, and how you react can lead to health issues.
Periods of excessive and pervasive stress may affect behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.
Your body's response to stress can include a headache, back strain, stomach pains and other physical symptoms. Stress also can make you feel tired, disturb normal sleep patterns, and leave you feeling irritable, forgetful and out of control. When stress is constant, your body remains in high gear off and on for days or weeks at a time, which can lead to health problems.
Can managing stress reduce or prevent heart disease?
Managing stress levels always is a good idea when it comes to your overall health. Studies are underway looking more closely into whether managing stress reduces risk for heart disease. Patients who have experienced a heart attack or stroke and feel depressed, anxious or overwhelmed by stress should contact their health care provider for additional help.
Beginning stress management process
Reducing stress can take many forms. Understanding your triggers, identifying your stress symptoms and recognizing what triggers your heightened stress levels can start the stress management process. The first step in this process is to identify ways to reduce pressures and control what can be controlled. Ask yourself what you can stop doing and what you can let go of.
Following these initials steps in managing stress, you can move to specific management skills and techniques, and there are many things that can be done to manage stress and build resources. As a psychologist, I typically ask people to adopt things from each of these categories: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
A few ideas to adopt include:
- Harness your strengths.
Reflect: "I feel most energetic, fulfilled and full of life when I am doing…"
- Take part in social activities.
Chat with a colleague or loved one, or catch up with an old friend virtually.
- Give to others.
Try volunteering or performing a random act of kindness.
- Start something.
Be creative, and try it for five minutes to begin with.
- Begin to journal.
Be mindful of your daily life.
Additional tips to help combat stress
There are several things you can do to relieve stress in your life, including:
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a positive attitude.
- Avoid smoking.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Eat healthy.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
In some situations, medicine can help. However, when it comes to stress, medication often is approached as a last resort. Instead, look to manage the stress you are experiencing using relaxation or other learned stress reduction techniques. Also, make sure you are not confusing stress for an anxiety disorder, which is a separate condition you should discuss with your health care provider.
Can stress be good for you?
Yes, of course, stress can be good for you. "Good" stress can come in the form of weddings, a job you love or your kids. This type of stress is normal. and it's beneficial.
Everyone needs a little bit of stress to have optimal functioning in daily life. Stress can enhance focus and concentration, and move you to connect more with others, which ultimately helps you manage stress better.