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Take Control of Stress and Live a Healthier Life


It’s that time of year again where the air turns crisp, the sun disappears quickly, and the added stress of the holidays can start to loom over us. November 1 is National Stress Awareness Day, and it’s a great time to educate yourself on how to recognize when you might be getting too stressed, and what you can do to treat and prevent it.

According to the International Stress Management Association, stress is an adverse reaction experienced when you’re under too much pressure. Stressors can be internal (attitudes, poor nutrition, lack of activity) and external (work, home, school, finances) or any combination of factors including a sudden negative change or traumatic experience. While some level of stress affects everyone, too much stress can lead to an unhealthy state of mind, body, or both.

While we often see stress as a negative reaction, not all stress is bad. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress can motivate people to prepare for things like a test or a job interview. It can even be lifesaving in a response to danger or an unsafe situation. In this instance, your body prepares to face a threat or run away by quickening your pulse, speeding up your breathing, tensing your muscles, and increasing brain activity. These are all functions for survival.

The effects of stress take a negative turn when you’re continually stressed. The body chemicals associated with the life-saving “fight or flight” mode are constantly stimulated, causing an imbalance in the body. This physical reaction contributes to poor mental and physical health. Over time, stress can cause serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, or anxiety.

People feel stress in various ways. Some people experience constant indigestion, while others may have headaches or insomnia. Others may feel depressed or irritable. There are lists of psychological, emotional, physical, and behavioral signs that can indicate that you’re overly stressed.

Psychological signs:

  • Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions
  • Memory lapses
  • Easily distracted
  • Negative thinking or excessive worry
  • Depression or anxiety

Emotional signs:

  • Crying or tearfulness
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Anger and defensiveness
  • Low self-esteem and low confidence

Physical signs:

  • Aches, pains, muscle tension, grinding teeth
  • Getting sick frequently
  • Constipation, diarrhea
  • Indigestion, heartburn, ulcers
  • Panic attack
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Physical tiredness
  • Menstrual changes, loss of libido
  • Heart problems, high blood pressure

Behavioral signs:

  • Increased reliance on alcohol, caffeine, or recreational drugs
  • Poor time management or poor work ethic
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Nervousness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Insomnia or waking up tired

These symptoms will often accumulate and worsen over time, and won’t improve until you address them and their root cause. Don’t rationalize the symptoms – always see your doctor if you’re concerned for your health or having trouble overcoming stress.

So, if you realize that you’re overly stressed, what are the best measures to take to care for your mental and physical health?

  • Recognize the signs. Monitor your body and emotions and acknowledge if something seems abnormal or unhealthy.
  • Talk to your doctor. It’s always important to get healthcare for existing health issues, and prevent others from happening.
  • Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking every day can boost your mood and reduce stress. Opt to take a walk during your lunch break, or exercise when you get up in the morning.
  • Participate in a relaxing activity, such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi. These approaches are sometimes used in addition to other forms of treatment for stress-related conditions. Sign up for a class here.
  • Set goals and priorities. If you decide what needs to be done first and what can wait for another day/time, that alone can reduce the risk of feeling overwhelmed.
  • Talk to friends and family. Staying connected to those you care about is a great way to receive emotional support and remind yourself of what’s important.

You should always seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, start using drugs or alcohol to cope with your emotions, or feel that you cannot manage your stress. If you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is available to anyone and all calls are confidential.

In order to prevent excessive stress in the future, there are some key steps to live a less stressful life:

  • Put yourself first. Eat and drink healthily, schedule physical activity that you enjoy, and manage your time well.
  • Prioritize. Choose your top three most urgent tasks every day and make them your priority.
  • Make time to relax. Just a few minutes per day of breathing exercises or meditation have been proven to reduce stress.
  • Don’t ignore your needs. Know what’s expected of you and what is reasonable. Take short breaks throughout the day.
  • Make time for fun. This will help you see opportunities for growth and learning, even for challenging situations.
  • Stop getting distracted. It’s okay to ask for support from colleagues or friends so you can prioritize tasks.
  • Stop avoiding tasks you don’t want to do. Putting off tasks can be a recipe for worry—take control, do the task, and promise yourself a small reward when you’re done.

If you feel overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a healthcare professional. Monocacy Health Partners provides comprehensive primary care for the entire family—from infant care to geriatric care. MHP Primary Care is a Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH), which is an innovative model of primary care that is organized and evidence-based so you can get the highest level of patient care. PCMH can help you treat any aspect of your stress, improving your physical and mental health.

If you don't have a primary care provider, or you're looking for a new one, call 240-215-6310 today to make an appointment with MHP Primary Care.