For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic affected their day-to-day lives, bringing challenges that can often feel very stressful. Combined with things like social distancing, it can leave one feeling lonely and anxious. A little stress can be harmless and may even be helpful. However, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, ongoing stress can play a part in serious health conditions. Knowing about the different types of stress and about how to cope with them can help you take care of your health.
Stress can be helpful.
Short-term hassles, such as being stuck in traffic or dealing with a leaky pipe, can be harmless. Stress can help you focus your energy and can push you to perform your best or tackle a challenge. Acting quickly in an emergency … meeting a deadline … avoiding an accident … these are all times when stress can be helpful.
However, dealing with too many of these situations at the same time can lead to unhealthy stress.
Long-term stress can damage your health.
According to the American Heart Association, ongoing stress that builds up takes a toll on your health and well-being. Constant worry affects your job, relationships, and enjoyment of life. Long-term stress can weaken your immune system and make you feel tired and angry.
Studies show a link between stress and health problems, including:
- Heart disease: Chronic stress can worsen high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Stress can cause spasms that block blood flow to the heart, resulting in chest pain and even heart attack.
- Digestive problems: Your body makes more stomach acid when your stress levels are high. This worsens stomach ulcer symptoms and makes it harder for ulcers to heal.
- Asthma: For people with asthma, stress often triggers an attack.
- Anxiety or depression: Stress can worsen feelings of anxiety or depression.
- Obesity: When stressed, many people tend to overeat, which leads to weight gain.
- Memory problems: Memory problems and forgetfulness can be signs of too much stress.
- Skin problems: Stress can make the skin more sensitive, which could worsen psoriasis and other skin problems.
Stress warning signs
Your body will give you signs when your stress level is too high. Some of these warning signs might be:
- Chest, neck, or back pain
- Frequent bad temper or sadness
- Lack of focus and energy
- Tense muscles
- Nail biting, teeth grinding, or jaw clenching
- Skin breakouts
- Skipping meals and other eating and drinking problems
- Sleep problems
- Upset stomach
Lower your stress
Finding ways that work for you to cope with stress is important for your overall health and well-being. Here are several different ways you can try to manage your daily stress:
- Try deep breathing, meditation, and
yoga to help you relax.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Start an aerobic exercise routine.
- Connect with friends or loved ones.
- Make time for activities you enjoy, like reading, watching a movie, or going for a long walk.
Another thing that can help lower stress is to find someone who you can talk to about it. This could be a counselor, a faith leader, or someone in your community who you trust, or even your doctor. Many providers offer telehealth, too.
Sources: National Institute of Mental Health website: nimh.nih.gov
American Heart Association website: heart.org
American Psychological Association website: apa.org
If you’re finding it hard to cope with stress, call your doctor or a mental health professional. They can guide you on how to respond well to stressful situations and help you have positive thoughts and feelings.