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10 Ways to Manage Stress

Angry, irritable, anxious? Tired, overwhelmed, disinterested? You’re not alone. These are symptoms of stress. In a recent survey, 75 percent of Americans reported at least one of those symptoms in the previous month.

You might think stress is no big deal. Life is full of challenges — financial stressors and responsibilities, work stress, relationship conflicts, too much to do, media and social media over load, and major changes like getting a promotion or a divorce. But your body’s response to these challenges affects your physical health and overall well being.

When stress raises adrenaline and cortisol hormone levels, your body goes into overdrive, causing wear-and-tear on your organs and tissue. You could get sick.

That’s why it’s important to pay attention to whether you’re getting “stressed out.” By stressed out, we mean you have too much stress, stress that can speed aging and contribute to obesity, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety and other physical and mental health issues.

If you’re getting too stressed out, it’s important to manage your stress.

You Might Be Stressed Out if You Have:

  • Physical problems like nausea or vomiting, muscle aches and pains, changes in bowel habits, rapid heart or chest pain, frequent colds or other illnesses.
  • Emotional changes like feeling angry, agitated, especially moody, depressed or withdrawn, lonely or unhappy, loss of sex drive.
  • Mental or cognitive problems like trouble being able to concentrate or remember things, act or make decisions, seeing only the bad side or worrying constantly, racing or out of control thoughts.
  • Behavior changes like eating or sleeping too much or not enough, using alcohol or other drugs more, showing nervous habits like nail biting or pacing.

Here’s a quick test to see if you’re too stressed.

10 Tips to De-stress and Boost Your Health

Regardless of the causes of stress, everyone can make ten lifestyle changes to reduce its impact. And each will improve your life in other ways as well!

  1. Eat good food (not too much). Fatty, sugary, processed comfort foods make you lethargic and make the effects of stress worse. Eat some good protein (eggs, fish) and lots of plant-based whole food to keep energy constant, fend off anxiety and boost the immune system. The Mediterranean diet and DASH Diet have been shown to reduce the kind of stress that leads to cardiovascular disease.
  2. Exercise to enhance your body’s response to stress — moving is what your body wants you to do with all that adrenalin anyway.
  3. Get enough sleep. Brain chemicals released during the dreaming stage can block stress hormones.
  4. Keep a journal to help you figure out what’s stressing you and de-stress. Don’t think or worry about it, just write anything that comes to mind.
  5. Create a plan to change what’s stressing you. It might be as simple as an automatic payroll deduction for saving, or as complex as going to school for new skills. It might be self-care. But taking steps can reduce the stress.
  6. Take breaks from work, organize time and projects, set limits on yourself and others.
  7. Spend time with and talk to people you enjoy or find a support group. Make sure they are people with a positive outlook.
  8. Cut things out of your schedule. Figure out what you really love and say no to unnecessary activities.
  9. Develop pleasure and relaxation habits (meditation, yoga, deep breathing, making art or music for example).
  10. Change the way you think about things. While stress is real and not “all in your head,” you might be thinking about things in a way that’s making it worse. Many of our unhealthy responses are habits that we can change. One good place to start is eliminating negative self-talk — that internal criticism and pessimism that keeps our glass half-empty. This link on reducing stress and improving your life with positive self-talk is a good place to start.

Don’t Hesitate to Get Help

Stress can lead to serious physical and mental health problems, especially when it’s severe or chronic, or when it comes from something that happened long ago. If you have concerns about stress, see your health care professional.

Meet the Author

Amy Eva Swift-Johnson, MD is a family medicine physician at Aurora Medical Center in Burlington.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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