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How to Manage the Effects of Stress on Our Health

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

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A woman in her 70's is seated at a table.  She is holding her glasses in one hand and is pinching the bridge of her nose with her other hand.  On the table in front of her is a laptop, notepad and a pink coffee cup and saucer.  She looks tired and stressed.

Stress is a natural human response that triggers our body to react immediately when we perceive a threat. Unfortunately, it can impact our physical and mental health, causing headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, anxiety, depression, weakened immune systems, and more. While everyone is at risk for stress, women are more likely to report experiencing higher stress levels than men. However, there are many ways to manage stress and improve our health.


Stress activates our brain, sending signals to the adrenal gland to release epinephrine and cortisol. Epinephrine causes our heart to beat faster, blood pressure to rise, and we breathe more quickly, while cortisol keeps the body on high alert until the danger has passed. However, if there is continued fear or multiple stressors, these hormones continue to be released, leading to chronic stress.


Constant epinephrine surges can lead to high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. At the same time, elevated cortisol levels can play havoc with our blood sugar and fat stores and contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and weight gain. Chronic stress can even lead to a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, and reproductive issues.


The fight or flight response is a sympathetic nervous system response, and the parasympathetic nervous system helps us rest and digest. Engaging our parasympathetic nervous system can help us manage stress and improve our health.


Here are some ways to manage stress (click the links below to listen to Beyond the Paper Gown podcast episodes to learn more!):

  1. Yoga combines physical exercise with mindfulness meditation, making it an excellent way to manage stress and improve overall health.

  2. Sleep is critical for physical and mental health, and chronic sleep deprivation can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Sometimes, our stress response can seem overwhelming despite our best efforts. Reaching out for help is essential, and a trained healthcare provider can help provide support and guidance and when necessary medical treatment. If you feel hopeless or in crisis, the Suicide and Crisis Hotline is 988 and available 24/7.


Stress is a natural human response that can impact our physical and mental health. Chronic stress can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, and reproductive issues. However, there are many ways to manage stress, and by doing so, we can improve our overall health.


References:

  1. American Psychological Association. (2017). Stress in America: The State of Our Nation. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2016/state-nation.pdf

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. (2018). Understanding the Stress Response. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

  3. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Stress Management. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-basics/hlv-20049495

  4. World Health Organization. (2022). Mental Health: Strengthening Our Response. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthen




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