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Collage with diverse people suffering from headache, stress or problems

You finally make it to the weekend, and rest is all you can think about. However, as you try to relax, your mind is still at work, worrying about completing job tasks. Before you know it, Monday has arrived and you are tired and overwhelmed. As anxiety builds and tension intensifies, you start to experience headaches and stomach issues. When it comes to food, some days you cannot get enough to eat, while on other days, you go without eating. When it comes to exercise, who has the time? With an erratic eating and exercise schedule, your body starts to ache from carrying additional weight. This all leads to an inevitable visit to the doctor, as anxiety, tension, and health issues mount. Lab work and vital signs reveal that your cholesterol and blood pressure levels are elevated. Your doctor is concerned because of the drastic changes to your health within a year.

Does the scenario above sound familiar? Unfortunately, the underlying diagnosis is stress. Stress can change a person’s mental and/or emotional states when dealing with life situations. All stress is not bad. Sometimes it can motivate people to be more productive or to react quickly to life-threatening situations. Experienced by all age groups, stress is usually short or long term. It is important to understand the types and symptoms of stress and the best ways to manage it.

Types and Symptoms

The American Psychological Association categorizes stress as acute, episodic acute, or chronic.

  • Acute stress is short-term with symptoms, such as anxiety, headaches, muscle tension, stomach issues (diarrhea and/or constipation), sleeplessness, and elevated blood pressure.
  • Episodic acute stress is experiencing acute stress repeatedly. It usually occurs when a person experiences the same stressor over an extended period. Symptoms include persistent tension headaches, migraines, chest pain, and heart disease. Treating episodic acute stress requires intervention on several levels, and generally will include some professional help that may take many months.
  • Chronic stress is long-term and very harmful. It is often damaging to a person’s mental and physical health and may lead to chronic health problems, such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, violence, and/or suicide. The treatments for all three types of stress ranges from self-care to professional counseling.

Reducing Stress

Many people do not schedule time throughout the day to relax and regroup from stress. Some individuals do not recognize stress indicators, and therefore, do not know when and how to seek help and available resources. Consider the following options to reduce stress.

  • Pay attention to changes with your health, thoughts, and mood. Seek medical advice if  symptoms persist or increase in intensity.
  • Consume a healthy diet. Many people overeat or undereat while stressed. It is critical to eat from all food groups (more fruits and vegetables), to watch portion sizes, and to burn calories with physical activity.
  • Exercise is critical in decreasing tension. Small steps are a good way to start and continue a physical activity regime. Examples include morning stretches, yoga, or a 30-minute walk.
  • Practice self care. This is the opportunity to relax and enjoy quiet and fun moments. Work and no play results in a stressful lifestyle, so schedule some alone time.
  • Prioritize tasks and set goals. Create a to-do list from least to greatest. Give yourself time to complete each task before moving to the next one. Set realistic and obtainable goals.
  • Have a support system. Everyone needs a support system. This may include family, friends, and/or co-workers. Remember to always incorporate family time. The bonds of family and friends can be the best medicine from a long and stressful day.

These are not the only strategies to use when managing stress; however, they are a good start. For additional information and resources, always contact your medical provider. Be open to making any lifestyle changes a physician may recommend, such as more self care, eating healthier, and exercising to avoid being diagnosed with a chronic illness.

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