Stress is the response of your body and mind to demands placed on you. When you feel threatened, your brain releases hormones that prepare your body to take action—you sweat, your breathing quickens, your heart rate goes up, and your muscles tense. This stress response is what allowed our human ancestors to either run or fight when face-to-face with a threat. Of course, these days most of the threats we face aren’t ones we can deal with in this way.
Most people can minimize the effects of stress with self-care techniques like exercise, meditation, getting a good night’s sleep, and eating well.
What is normal?
Stress itself is not a mental illness. Stress is a normal reaction to the demands of life. A small amount of stress can be good, since it motivates you to perform well. But multiple stressful challenges every day can make it tough to cope. If stress keeps piling up, and starts to make you feel worse instead of motivating you, it can harm your mental and physical health.
What are common signs and symptoms?
Learning to identify the following signs may help you better manage your stress.
Changes in your body:
- Muscles feel tense
- Breathing and heart rate feel quicker
- Headaches or stomach aches
- Changes in my sleep or appetite
- Feeling tired
Changes in your actions:
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs to help cope
- Withdrawing from others
- Drinking more coffee
- Losing patience with people
- Avoiding situations that are stressful
Changes in your emotions:
- Feeling worried and confused
- Feeling angry and irritable
- Feeling like you can’t cope
Changes in your thinking:
- Having trouble concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
- Thoughts race
- Losing self-confidence
- Negative attitude toward yourself and your life
Should I seek help?
Because the causes and effects of stress are different for everyone, we all need to find our own way to cope. Many people can minimize the effect of stress in their life with self-care techniques. Talk about your stress with friends or family; share your workload if you can; don’t procrastinate; get more exercise; try meditation; make sure you get a good night’s sleep; and be sure to eat well.
If you still find you struggle to deal with stress, talk to your doctor about other strategies to manage it.
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