(ABC4 EXTRA) Everyone gets stressed from time to time. There are different types of stress. It can be short-term or long-term. It can be caused by something that happens once or something that keeps happening.

Not all stress is bad. In fact, it can help you survive in a dangerous situation. For example, one kind of stress is the jolt you may feel when a car pulls out in front of you. This jolt of hormones helps you quickly hit the brakes to avoid an accident. A little short-term stress can sometimes be helpful. For example, the stress of having a deadline for school or your job may push you to get your work done on time. Once you finish it, that stress goes away.

While stress is a physical and emotional reaction that people frequently experience while confronting life’s challenges, long-term stress (or chronic stress) that lasts for weeks, months, or longer may contribute to negative health outcomes, such as digestive and sleep disorders, headaches, and other symptoms and conditions. Stress may worsen asthma and has been linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

It’s possible to get used to the symptoms of stress and not even realize there’s a problem. So when there’s a lot of stress in your life, it’s important to pay attention to how it affects you so you can do something about it.

How can I manage long-term stress?

Simple things that improve your mental health may be helpful in managing long-term stress, such as:

  • Get regular exercise. A 30-minute daily walk can help you feel better and help keep your immune system strong, so you don’t get sick.
  • Try relaxing activities. You could look for an app or wellness program that uses breathing, meditation, or muscle relaxation exercises.
  • Get enough sleep every night.
  • Avoid too much caffeine.
  • Decide what you need to do now and what can wait. And focus on what you got done each day, not on what you weren’t able to do.
  • Ask your family or friends for support.

Is a healthy diet important in combatting stress?

I think many of us have a go-to comfort food when you feel stressed? During times of stress, many of us may reach for foods or snacks and often these are high in saturated fats or added sugars.

The fact that stress can impact food choices is not news. Yet, when it comes to food and stress, one of the best things you can do for your body is to choose a balanced, healthful eating style.

And as we’ve mentioned before, participating in regular physical activity is also beneficial for managing stress or choosing relaxation activities such as meditation, guided imagery, or breathing exercises.

What is the potential role of positive social interactions in coping with stress?

Humans are inherently social beings. Socialization, or enjoying other people’s company and maintaining a sense of connectedness to others, is an important component of stress reduction. Joining a club or group, chatting online, calling a friend on the phone, or hanging out with family are all examples of socialization. These activities decrease a sense of loneliness while promoting feelings of safety, security, belonging, and enjoyment.

Socialization also directly impacts our stress levels in multiple ways.

  • First, socialization increases a hormone that decreases anxiety levels and make us feel more confident in our ability to cope with stressors.
  • In addition, spending time with others directs our energy outward (rather than inward). If you are focused on reaching out to other people, you are temporarily distracted from your own circumstances, pain, or stress levels. People who reach out to others can rely on those individuals for help and emotional assistance in the future.
  • Next, people who are socially connected feel wanted, included, and cared for. These individuals can talk through problems and share feelings with others (which can decrease stress feelings). Time spent socializing can strengthen your sense that life has meaning and purpose and increase your mood; all factors that can help protect you against the negative effects of stress.

When should I ask my health care provider for help with stress?

Get help if you’re having severe symptoms for 2 weeks or more, including:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in your eating that cause unwanted changes in your weight
  • Troubles getting out of bed because of your mood
  • Difficulty focusing your thoughts
  • Losing interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Not being able to do your usual daily activities

Always get help right away if stress is causing you to:

  • Have thoughts of harming yourself
  • Feel you can’t cope
  • Use drugs or alcohol more often than usual

Your health care provider may refer you to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or social worker.

For more information, visit the Optum Health website.


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