Health & Medicine

Long-term stress can harm your health, so take precautions

Heather Goodman
Heather Goodman

Whether you are dealing with added pressure in your life, or experiencing a sudden negative change, stress can play a big part in your health.

Stress is the brain and body’s response to any demand and is a factor in most people’s lives. According to the American Institution of Stress, 44 percent of Americans feel more stressed than they did five years ago, and one in five Americans experience extreme stress, which includes shaking, depression and heart palpitations.

Stress can take a toll on physical and mental health, so it’s imperative to know when to seek help.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 66 percent of people experience physical symptoms of stress. People may encounter stress for different reasons, such as pressure related to work, school and family; a sudden change, like job loss, illness or divorce; and traumatic experiences, such as a natural disaster, a major accident or assault.

Stress can take a toll on people in different ways. For some, it can lead to headaches, digestive problems, anger, sadness and lack of sleep. For others, chronic stress can be more severe, increasing the risk of developing health problems, such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and a weakened immune system.

The American Psychological Association also reported that 63 percent of people experience psychological symptoms. A stressful experience may result in post-traumatic stress disorder for some people, and in severe cases, stress can lead to suicide or substance abuse. It can also lead to mental health problems, like depression and anxiety. It’s important to recognize warning signs of stress, and to take steps to manage and cope with it.

Signs of stress include headaches, nausea, indigestion, breathing more quickly, perspiring more, and suffering from aches and pains. You may experience many different emotions, from anxiety to frustration; and behavioral changes, such as being withdrawn and indecisive, or having low energy.

If you notice these changes, contact a physician.

You can also take matters into your own hands to help ease the stress. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as getting enough rest, eating nutritional foods and exercising regularly, can also help reduce and control stress and boost your mood.

Relaxing activities and hobbies, like yoga and meditation, can also reduce physical and mental stress.

If you are not able to easily reduce or manage your stress, talk to a physician. A doctor can help identify the cause of your stress and offer treatments to help you live a healthier life.

Heather Goodman is with assessment and referral services at Our Lady of Peace, which offers behavioral health and substance use treatment services.