Managing stress: How stress can impact your health

March 13, 2024

Primary Care Mental Health
Man stressed at work

Wondering how you can get better at managing stress in your daily life? Worried about how stress can impact your health? Hear from Roya Sedghi, M.D., Board Certified Internal Medicine Physician with Riverside Williamsburg Family Medicine, about how stress affects your overall health and some steps you can take today to lower your stress level.

Understanding stress

Everyone experiences stress in their lives – a healthy amount of stress can be a good motivator. However, too much stress can take a toll on your body over time.

Let’s start by looking at what stress is exactly. “Stress is basically our ‘fight or flight’ response to actual or perceived danger,” explains Dr. Sedghi. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors’ bodies developed the stress response when faced with danger. When you feel stressed, high amounts of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, flood your body. These hormones:

  • Boost your energy.
  • Increase your blood pressure.
  • Prepare your body to react.
  • Raise your heart rate.

How stress affects your health

When you’re overly stressed, your body gets stuck in that heightened “fight or flight” posture. Given all the ways stress affects your body, it’s probably not a surprise to learn that a constantly high stress level is hard on your body.

You might notice that you get a stomachache before a stressful event – such as a big presentation at work or a public speaking engagement. Ongoing stress can lead to inflammation of the circulatory system. And doctors link it with an increased risk for having a heart attack. Experts also believe how the body handles stress can affect cholesterol levels (Source: APA).

Potential effects of chronic (long-term) stress can include:

How to reduce stress

Thankfully, you can take steps to reduce the stress in your daily life:

Determine the cause(s) of your stress

Try journaling and getting your feelings out on paper. (There are also journal mobile apps available, if you’d prefer a digital format.) Think about the different aspects of your life that could cause stress. Then, take concrete steps to meet obligations in those areas, address the issues and reduce your stress levels. Be realistic about your goals and expectations – for yourself and others.

Get enough sleep every night

Not getting at least seven hours of sleep each night can negatively impact all areas of your life – including your mental health and stress levels. If you have trouble getting to or staying asleep, try a better sleep routine, including:

  • Avoid all screens for the last hour or two before bed.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Make sure your sleep environment is dark and cool.
  • Remove distractions – including all devices – from your sleep environment.
  • Try relaxing activities before bed, such as taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music or reading a physical book or magazine.

Nurture your relationships

Establishing and maintaining strong connections with other people is important for everyone. “Spending time with the people you love can help reduce your stress levels and temporarily take your mind off things that may be causing you stress,” Sr. Sedghi. “In turn, this can help improve your physical health.” During tough times, lean on your family and friends for support and a listening ear.

Seek help from a mental health professional

If you’ve tried managing stress on your own and still feel it piling up, don’t be afraid to seek help from a mental health professional. There’s no shame in getting help. Speaking with an impartial third-party professional can help you sort through what’s stressing you. A counselor can also help you create a plan with concrete steps to better manage your stressors.

Get help managing your stress levels now

If you feel out of control with the amount of stress in your life, seek care from a Riverside Health System mental health provider. We’re here and ready to help you get on the road to improving your quality of life.

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