Learning About Stress

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What is stress?

Stress is what you feel when you have to handle more than you are used to. Stress is a fact of life for most people, and it affects everyone differently. What causes stress for you may not be stressful for someone else.

A lot of things can cause stress. You may feel stress when you go on a job interview, take a test, or run a race. This kind of short-term stress is normal and even useful. It can help you if you need to work hard or react quickly. For example, stress can help you finish an important job on time.

Stress also can last a long time. Long-term stress is caused by stressful situations or events. Examples of long-term stress include long-term health problems, ongoing problems at work, or conflicts in your family. Long-term stress can harm your health.

How does stress affect your health?

When you are stressed, your body responds as though you are in danger. It makes hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster, and give you a burst of energy. This is called the fight-or-flight stress response. If the stress is over quickly, your body goes back to normal and no harm is done.

But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects. Long-term stress can make you more likely to get sick, and it can make symptoms of some diseases worse. If you tense up when you are stressed, you may develop neck, shoulder, or low back pain. Stress is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Stress also harms your emotional health. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.

What can you do to manage stress?

How to relax your mind

  • Write. It may help to write about things that are bothering you. This helps you find out how much stress you feel and what is causing it. When you know this, you can find better ways to cope.
  • Let your feelings out. Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to. Talking with friends, family, a counsellor, or a member of the clergy about your feelings is a healthy way to relieve stress.
  • Do something you enjoy. For example, listen to music or go to a movie. Practice your hobby or do volunteer work.
  • Meditate. This can help you relax, because you are not worrying about what happened before or what may happen in the future.
  • Do guided imagery. Imagine yourself in any setting that helps you feel calm. You can use audiotapes, books, or a teacher to guide you.

How to relax your body

  • Do something active. Exercise or activity can help reduce stress. Walking is a great way to get started. Even everyday activities such as housecleaning or yard work can help.
  • Do breathing exercises. For example:
    • From a standing position, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent. Let your arms dangle close to the floor.
    • Breathe in slowly and deeply as you return to a standing position. Roll up slowly and lift your head last.
    • Hold your breath for just a few seconds in the standing position.
    • Breathe out slowly and bend forward from the waist.
  • Try yoga or tai chi. These techniques combine exercise and meditation. You may need some training at first to learn them.

What can you do to prevent stress?

  • Manage your time. This helps you find time to do the things you want and need to do.
  • Get enough sleep. Your body recovers from the stresses of the day while you are sleeping.
  • Get support. Your family, friends, and community can make a difference in how you experience stress.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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