April is recognized nationally as Stress Awareness Month, and experts say it’s important to understand what stress is, how to best cope with it and how to prevent it from negatively impacting your health.
Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it’s under attack and switches to “fight or flight” mode, releasing a mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol that can cause different reactions that negatively impact bodily functions.
“Although we all get stressed at some point in our lives, it’s critically important that we pay attention to it,” said Dr. Luis Sandoval, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Stress can cause serious health problems and significantly reduce your quality of life. That’s why it’s beneficial to be able to identify symptoms and take appropriate action to alleviate stress before it causes physical or emotional harm.”
One of the leading causes of stress is major life changes, regardless of whether they are good or bad, according to the Kaiser Permanente website. These include relationships, work, financial problems, or family obligation. Stress can build up over time, so it’s important to keep track of your health over time and to continuously evaluate the different aspects of life.
The American Psychological Association states that chronic stress is linked to six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, liver ailments, accidents and suicide. It’s paramount to be able to recognize when stress becomes an impediment to a healthy life.
Common symptoms of stress include:
2. Weight gain or loss
5. High blood pressure
Other symptoms may include upset stomach, irritability, body pains, rapid breathing, sweaty palms, fatigue and inability to concentrate, remember things or make decisions, according to Sandoval.
When feeling stressed, there are certain things you can do to reduce or alleviate stress. Sandoval said it’s important to understand the difference between constructive and destructive coping behavior.
Constructive coping behavior includes avoiding the cause of your stress, including people; choosing cooperation over confrontation when you’re frustrated with an individual; enjoying outdoor activities; exercising; reading and cooking.
Destructive coping behavior that should be avoided includes smoking, drinking, resorting to violence and emotional eating.
“We may not be able to eliminate stress from our lives, but we can often control it,” Sandoval said. “Doing so will help improve your quality of life.”