Recognizing and Reducing Stress

By Dr. Michael Deanda, Medical Director at Pomona Valley Health Center La Verne

One of the best ways to manage stress and its effects on the body is to become aware of it. Now is an ideal time to pause and assess your stress, the toll it might be taking on your mental and physical well-being and ways to better manage it.

What is stress?

Stress is the tension you feel when dealing with challenging circumstances. Many people experience stress, but it affects everyone differently. What causes you stress may not be stressful for someone else.

A lot of things can cause stress. You may feel stress when you go on a job interview, take a test, or run a race. Short-term stress is normal and even useful. In fact, it can help rev you up if you need to work hard or react quickly.

Stress also can be long-lasting. Long-term stress is caused by demanding situations or events and can be harmful to your health. Examples of long-term stressors include chronic health problems, sustained problems at work, or family conflicts.

How does your body respond to stress?

When you experience stress, your body responds as though you are in danger by producing hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster, and give you a burst of energy. This is called the “fight-or-flight” stress response. If the episode ends quickly, your body returns to normal. But if you are experiencing stress frequently or for long periods of time, it can have negative effects on your health.

Long-term stress can make you more susceptible to illness and increase the severity of symptoms of some diseases. Stress is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and mental health issues. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and your performance at work or school may decline.

How can you manage stress?

  • Be active. Exercise can help reduce stress. Not a runner? Walking is a great way to get started. Just 30 minutes of walking a day is a great way to improve your mood and reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Stretch and yoga classes are another great option for managing stress.
  • Write. Journal about things that are bothering you. This can help you recognize when you feel stress and the triggers that may be causing it. When you know the cause, you can find better ways to cope and manage its effect.
  • Do something you enjoy. Listen to music, go to a movie or read a book. Practice your hobby or do volunteer work. Spending 15 minutes a day on something you enjoy can help alleviate the effects of stress.
  • Meditate and Breathe. Mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises can help you relax and become more aware of your body. These practices can help you identify areas that are holding tension, lower blood pressure and promote better blood flow.

Stress Prevention Tips

One way to limit the negative effects of stress on the body is to avoid unnecessary stress. Here are a few ways to help manage stress before it starts:

  • Time Management. This helps you find time to do the things you want and need to do. Some ways to manage your time are keeping a calendar that includes blocking out time for exercise or other activities you enjoy, not overcommitting, delegating your time and eliminating distractions.
  • Rest. Your body recovers from the stresses of the day while you are sleeping, so make sure you are getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night.
  • Support System. Your family, friends, community or even a counselor or therapist can help you manage stress. If something is bothering you – let it go by talking it over with someone you trust.

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