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Stress and your health


Alternative Names:

Anxiety; Feeling uptight; Stress; Tension; Jitters; Apprehension

Considerations:

Stress is a normal feeling. There are two main types of stress:

  • Acute stress. This is short-term stress that goes away quickly. You feel it when you slam on the brakes, have a fight with your partner, or ski down a steep slope. It helps you manage dangerous situations. It also occurs when you do something new or exciting. All people have acute stress at one time or another.
  • Chronic stress. This is stress that lasts for a longer period of time. You may have chronic stress if you have money problems, an unhappy marriage, or trouble at work. Any type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is chronic stress. You can become so used to chronic stress that you don't realize it is a problem. If you don't find ways to manage stress, it may lead to health problems.

STRESS AND YOUR BODY

Your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones. These hormones make your brain more alert, cause your muscles to tense, and increase your pulse. In the short term, these reactions are good because they can help you handle the situation causing stress. This is your body's way of protecting itself.

When you have chronic stress, your body stays alert, even though there is no danger. Over time, this puts you at risk for health problems, including:

If you already have a health condition, chronic stress can make it worse.

SIGNS OF TOO MUCH STRESS

Stress can cause many types of physical and emotional symptoms. Sometimes, you may not realize these symptoms are caused by stress. Here are some signs that stress may be affecting you:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequent aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Lack of energy or focus
  • Sexual problems
  • Stiff jaw or neck
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping to much
  • Upset stomach
  • Use of alcohol or drugs to relax
  • Weight loss or gain
Which of the following situations cause stress?The correct answer is all of the above. Any major change can cause stress, even good change. Changing how you react to stress and doing relaxation exercises can help. Stress produces the following changes in the body:The correct answer is all of the above. Stress causes changes in the body that can make it harder for your body to fight disease. Talk to your doctor about how you can better control your body’s natural response to stress. Ongoing stress can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.The correct answer is true. Some stress is healthy, but excessive stress can cause health problems, or make them worse. Talk to your doctor if you think some of your symptoms are related to stress. Which of the following are symptoms of stress?The correct answer is all of the above. Stress doesn’t always produce clear symptoms. Even minor symptoms, such as upset stomach, stiff neck, or hiccups can be related to stress. If you notice symptoms of stress, take time to relax every day.Children rarely feel stress.The correct answer is false. Children often feel stress because they can't communicate their feelings. Physical symptoms, such as stomachaches, can be a sign of stress in a child. If you are a parent, try to lower your own stress level. When you are stressed, it can cause stress in your child.Some studies show that job stress may be as bad for your health as smoking or not exercising.The correct answer is true. Stress makes it hard to concentrate, causes sleeplessness, and increases the risk for illness, back problems, accidents, and lost time from work. Think about ways to take stress out of your work life. Take time to go for a walk during lunch, or find other ways to relax during the work day. Which of the following activities can help you feel less stress?The correct answer is all of the above. Spending time with friends, going for a run, playing with your dog, or doing deep breathing can lower your stress level. Try different ways to relieve stress and see what works best for you.Over-the-counter medicines can relieve stress.The correct answer is false. Medicine can’t make stress go away, but it can help you manage stress symptoms. Pain relievers can help ease tension headaches, and antacids and laxatives help an upset stomach. A better idea is to learn healthy ways to deal with stress. If you can't manage stress on your own, talk with a therapist.Which of the following activities can help you ward off the effects of stress?The correct answer is all of the above. All of these activities improve your health and help you deal with stress. To make stress easier to handle, eat a balanced healthy diet, exercise daily, and express your feelings to friends, loved ones, a therapist, or in a journal. Which of the following help you learn to relax?The correct answer is all of the above. There are many different relaxation techniques that can help you deal with stress. Talk to your doctor about what type of relaxation therapy is right for you.Living a stressful life is unavoidable.The correct answer is false. Most people feel stress, but you can learn to manage it and even avoid it. Making healthy changes in your habits, learning to say no, setting priorities, and leading a healthful lifestyle are just a few ways you can combat stress. Talk with your health care provider about how to manage the stress in your life.
When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call a suicide hotline if you have thoughts of suicide.

Call your health care provider if you feel overwhelmed by stress, or if it is affecting your health. Also call your provider if you notice new or unusual symptoms.

Reasons you may want to seek help are:

  • You have feelings of panic, such as dizziness, rapid breathing, or a racing heartbeat.
  • You are unable to work or function at home or at your job.
  • You have fears that you cannot control.
  • You are having memories of a traumatic event.

Your provider may refer you to a mental health care provider. You can talk to this professional about your feelings, what seems to make your stress better or worse, and why you think you are having this problem.

References:

Ahmed SM, Lemkau JP, Hershberger PJ. Psychosocial influences on health. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 3.

FamilyDoctor.org. Stress: How to cope better with life's challenges. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/emotional-wellbeing/mental-health/stress-how-to-cope-better-with-lifes-challenges.html. Accessed April 17, 2014.

Larzelere MM, Jones GN. Stress and health. Prim Care. 2008;35:839-856.

National Institute of Mental Health. Fact Sheet on Stress. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml. Accessed April 17, 2014.

US Department of Health and Human Services: Womanshealth.gov. Stress and your health fact sheet. July 2012. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/stress-your-health.html. Accessed April 17, 2014.


Review Date: 11/23/2014
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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