No matter how many times you’ve done it, it’s not uncommon to feel stressed before a big presentation at work. Your heart races, your breath quickens, and your palms become cold and sweaty. These symptoms are your body’s natural reaction to stress. While uncomfortable, occasional stress is normal and even beneficial. It keeps you alert and motivated and can even help you avoid danger. However, constant feelings of stress without reprieve can have serious health consequences.
Every April, the Health Resource Network sponsors National Stress Awareness Month to inform people about stress and provide tools to help manage it. According to a Gallup poll, 79% of Americans feel stressed on a daily basis, with family and work obligations contributing to feelings of pressure. While stress is unavoidable, recognizing the warning signs and knowing when to seek help can help you manage your stress level and live a happy, healthy life.
How stress affects your physical and mental health
Your body’s autonomic nervous system has a built-in “fight or flight” response that helps you cope in stressful situations. It evolved as a survival mechanism that allowed humans to fight a threat or run to safety. While people may not have to fight off lions and tigers and bears on a regular basis anymore, the fight or flight response is still critical to survival in emergencies. The problem occurs when the body overreacts to everyday stressors like traffic, money struggles, and relationship difficulties. Remaining in a stressed state for extended periods of time is called chronic stress, and it takes a significant toll on the body.
Research has shown that prolonged and repeated activation of the stress response contributes to high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. Chronic stress can also suppress your immune system, affect your digestion, and speed up the aging process. Additionally, remaining in a stressed state causes changes in the brain that can lead to anxiety, depression, and addiction. Catching the symptoms of stress early can help prevent these conditions and improve your quality of life.
Am I stressed?
The frightening thing about stress is that it often creeps up unnoticed. Many people who are stressed don’t even realize it because the symptoms begin to feel normal. If you experience some or many of these warning signs on a regular basis, you may be suffering from chronic stress:
Anxious or racing thoughts
Aches and pains
Nausea or dizziness
Loss of sex drive
Chest pain or rapid heart rate
Change in appetite
Sleeping too much or too little
Withdrawing from others
Using alcohol or drugs to relax
How to improve your ability to handle stress
The first step to managing stress is recognizing the warning signs. If you consistently experience the above symptoms, there are practical steps you can take to conquer them. A great way to reduce stress is to get up and move. Exercise relieves muscle tension and produces endorphins in the brain that help reduce stress. Spending quality time with people who improve your mood can also help you keep your stress level under control. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response and help you stay calm under pressure. Eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep also improve your ability handle stress.
Despite your best efforts to manage stress on your own, sometimes the pressure becomes too much to handle. Fortunately, professional help is available.
When should I seek help for stress?
Everyone has a different threshold for how much stress is too much. Your support network, ability to cope with your emotions, and attitude about life all influence your stress tolerance level. Because everyone has their own limits, it can be difficult to know when you’ve reached yours. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly half of all Americans don’t know how to determine when they need professional help. If stress interferes with your daily life, causes suicidal thoughts, leads you to use drugs or alcohol, or makes you feel overwhelmed with nowhere to turn, it’s time to ask for help.
Professional treatment for stress in San Diego
When not addressed, the everyday stressors of life can quickly compound and trigger anxiety or depression. Stress can also lead a person to abuse drugs or alcohol to cope with the pressure. At Alvarado Parkway Institute, our goal is to help you discover healthy ways to manage stress so you can enjoy life again. While it may not feel like it right now, recovery from anxiety, depression, and substance abuse is possible. Call us today to learn more about Alvarado Parkway Institute and our treatment programs at (619) 485-1432.