It’s the end of a long day and you’re stressed beyond belief. You’re exhausted and having trouble concentrating — can feel the tension in your shoulders and your heart racing, can sense your temper flaring. You’re ready to go home, to turn the lights off and enjoy some peace and quiet, but you know your mind will continue to run and run and run.
“Stress is powerful,” says Carrie Hebel, PMHNP-BC, a nurse practitioner who specializes in psychiatric and mental health at PrimeCare Clinic in Columbia. “And it’s been a hot topic for quite some time in the medical community due to the correlations between stress and its impact on physical health.”
Stress is something most people are familiar with on some level. It’s not necessarily a bad thing in small doses — in fact, it can even be a helpful motivator in some cases. However, consistently high and recurring stress can often result in a number of potentially harmful physical effects, Hebel notes, such as intensifying autoimmune disorders, causing inflammation and increasing chances for depression and anxiety. Stress can also increase the risk of stroke, diabetes, hypertension and heart problems.
So how do you know what you’re experiencing is chronic stress and when should you be concerned? The factors causing stress vary from person to person, but Hebel advises to look for the following warning signs:
- Fatigue and sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Appetite changes
- Isolating yourself from others
- Feeling rushed or overwhelmed
- Feeling burned out, depressed or anxious
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) upset (i.e., diarrhea and constipation)
- Pain and discomfort, including headaches and muscle tension
If you’re frequently experiencing the symptoms described above, there are a number of ways to get your body back on track.
“Start by talking with your doctor about your options,” Hebel advises. “One way to decrease your stress is to pursue therapy. Routinely talking with a licensed therapist can help you identify the root causes of your stress and learn how to manage it.”
Additional coping techniques Hebel recommends for everyone coping with varying levels of stress include:
- Laughing out loud
- Getting enough sleep (preferably seven to nine hours for adults)
- Getting fresh air
- Increasing physical activity
- Trying a new hobby or volunteering
- Making healthy dietary choices (i.e., moderating carbs and sugars while incorporating fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and baked or grilled lean meats)
Ultimately, when coping with stress, it’s important to listen to your body and to talk to someone about what might be causing the stress.
For more information about stress management, talk to your doctor or therapist.
Carrie Hebel, PMHNP-BC,
is a nurse practitioner with certification from the American Nurses
Credentialing Center in psychiatric and mental health across the
lifespan. She practices at PrimeCare Clinic in Columbia, Tennessee.