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Reducing Stress: How to do it and why it matters

Posted November 05, 2020 by Charles A. Zonfa, MD, FACOG | Chief Medical Officer

You know the feeling: your hands sweat, your heart pounds and your muscles tense. Yes, that’s stress, commonly known as our “flight or fight” response. It can motivate you to nail that big presentation at work or quickly react if your kid takes a tumble. But unless you’re being chased by wolves or slamming on the brakes to avoid a pile-up, your stress could be doing you more harm than good.

That’s because our stress response isn’t very good at deciphering physical threats from those that only live in our heads. Modern life is full of triggers like financial problems and tough relationships that can keep us in a nearly constant state of heightened stress.

Know the symptoms of chronic stress

You may be experiencing some signs of chronic stress without recognizing what they mean or how much they’re affecting your life. Common symptoms include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Anger or irritability
  • Worry or obsessive thoughts
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Substance abuse
  • Social isolation

Constant stress can affect your health

We’re talking about physical (not just mental) health. If your body is flooded by stress hormones on a regular basis, it can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, elevating your risk of heart disease. Stress suppresses your immune system, lowering your ability to heal or fight off illness. Sufferers can also experience heartburn, mood swings, and insomnia.

Take control of your stress:

1. Sleep better by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Wind down before bed by reading a book, stretching, journaling or meditation. And turn off those screens; their blue light disrupts your circadian rhythm and makes it difficult to fall asleep.

2. Get more exercise to lower your stress and sleep better. Even moderate exercise like brisk walking can help you sweat out excess stress hormones.

3. Try meditation, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. It will help lower your stress and keep it down, making it easier to handle stressful situations.

4. Eat a balanced diet of fresh, healthy foods and cut back on inflammation triggers like sugar, alcohol, processed foods and dairy.

5. Make time for fun whether it’s a binge-worthy TV show, dance class, hobby or play time with your pet.

6. Build your social support system by sharing your troubles with friends or family.

If you still feel overwhelmed, talk to your family doctor. He or she may be able to give you more coping strategies or refer you to a mental health provider.