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Stress management is the use of various techniques that may help manage or control your levels of stress, particularly chronic stress. Certain techniques of stress management can be learned and done individually, while others may require the help of a professional, such as a doctor, therapist, social worker, counselor, or an alternative medicine practitioner. Many people also find support for stress management in groups and group activities.
Learning how to manage stress, especially chronic stress, is becoming an issue among many employers. Schools are also starting to teach stress management to their students, in order to improve rising rates of academic stress.
What causes stress can differ considerably from person to person. Something that may not bother you may cause severe stress to someone else, and the other way around. Stresses can be individual, or they can be several small things adding up to one big stressor. There are also routine stresses and traumatic stresses, acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) stresses, all of which affect people in different ways. Stresses aren’t always necessarily caused by a “bad” situation, they can be caused by seemingly happy events or events that you’ve chosen, such as marriage, moving, graduation, promotions, becoming a parent, and retirement.
When you experience stress, your body releases hormones that are meant to help you cope. These hormones, including cortisol, trigger your fight-or-flight response. These hormones are supposed to protect you by pushing you to react to the stress that you’re facing. Your body reacts to the hormones by tensing your muscles and increasing your heart rate or pulse, making you ready and alert, to react. Stress becomes a problem, however, when the stress reactions don’t resolve once the danger or perception of danger has been removed, and the feeling of over-alertness doesn’t go away.
Acute stress or short-term stresses start and stop suddenly. An acute stress can range from narrowly missing being hit by a car while you’re crossing the street or having a fight with someone you love. The stresses trigger the hormone release but the sensation should go away once you have overcome the stress.
Chronic stress is caused by situations that affect you over a longer period, such as financial issues, stressful situations at work, or relationship difficulties. The hormones may be released but because the stress doesn’t go away completely, your body doesn’t know how to cope with that constant feeling of anxiety or worry.
Here are just a few examples of other situations that can cause significant stress:
Stressful situations, particularly traumatic events, may lead to a more severe problem called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With PTSD, you may re-experience the event, have nightmares, or experience flashbacks. You may find yourself thinking of the event for no reason. Avoidance of anything that may trigger ideas or thoughts of the event can add to the stressful feelings.
Stressful events occur to everyone—and can be from those that may be happy (such as a wedding) and those that can have serious consequences (such as financial difficulties). But stress doesn’t cause the same reactions in everyone. We all know some people who are happy and enjoy life, no matter what life throws at them, but we may also know someone who feels paralyzed when they are faced with something that we may feel wouldn’t bother us.
People who at higher risk of reacting badly to stresses include those who:
Stress seems to affect more women than men, as it does people with certain personality traits, such as those who are quick to anger.
Once you have decided to see a doctor about your stress and stress management, you will likely be given an exam to rule out any physical problems and along with your medical history, you might be asked about:
You may also be given a screening test, questionnaire, or psychological evaluation.
The symptoms of stress are as different between people as are the causes. Some people show stress symptoms physically, while others psychologically. These are the most common symptoms of stress:
Physical symptoms of stress can include:
Unmanaged stress may also worsen or lead to certain types of physical illnesses or conditions, such as:
Everyone has some stress in his or her life. How well they deal with it can directly affect the prognosis or outcome. Good stress management after a traumatic event can help reduce the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, and stress management overall helps reduce the risk of stress causing or worsening physical ailments.
If you feel you may need stress management, your doctor has screening tests and questionnaires that may help determine your state of mind.
We can’t avoid all stresses, but by taking some preventative action, we can try to limit our exposure to stresses and our reactions to the stresses when they do occur. These include actions such as:
Successful stress management techniques vary considerably between different people. While some may respond well to traditional methods of talking things out or distractions, other people need medication or to be proactive and have techniques ready and waiting to be used if they’re needed. As well, many people find that they need a combination of techniques, as some may work in some situations but not in others. The important thing to keep in mind is that it may take practice for some techniques to work for your and you may have to do some trial-and-error too, to find which ones work best. Here are some suggestions:
Lifestyle changes. Making changes in every day life activities can make a difference in how your body reacts to stress. These include:
Counseling. Seeing a counselor or therapist may also be helpful. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that helps people perceive what is causing their stress and how they react to it.
Medications. Several medications for anxiety have proven to help some people with severe stress, but many doctors feel it shouldn’t be a first-line treatment, that medications should be tried if counseling is not effective, for example. Also, it’s important to understand that not everyone responds in the same way to anti-anxiety medications, so it may take trying a few different types before you find one that is effective for you. Examples of anti-anxiety medications that may help with stress management include:
Antidepressants. Examples of antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders include:
Benzodiazepines. This class of medication works more quickly, and is usually used for relieving acute anxiety. They can become habit-forming, so they should be used with caution.
Other types of medications that may be used that fall into the following classes:
Support groups. Joining a support group, particularly if your stress is coming from being a caregiver or from a health condition or illness.
Relaxation techniques not only encourage a clearing of the mind (distraction), they can have a physical effect on the your body as well, such as lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles that may have tensed up.
Herbal and natural supplements. A number of supplements can be helpful to those who suffer from stress—but be sure to speak with your doctor first to see what is right for you. If you take prescription medicines, check with your pharmacist to be sure that the supplements you want to try don’t interact with your medicines, either prescription or over-the-counter.
Sometimes you can’t manage your stress on your own and you need help. If you have any of the following signs, speak with your doctor about what you might do to manage your stress:
If you have suicidal thoughts or actions, seek help immediately. Go to the emergency room or a walk-in clinic, call your doctor, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
For more information on stress management, visit:
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