Stress is a part of life, but there are different types. Understanding them is important to your physical and mental health. Here are some key questions and answers about stress and how to better manage it.
QUESTION: What’s the difference between good stress and bad stress?
ANSWER: You can experience stress for a positive reason, such as an upcoming wedding or new baby. Or you can be stressed for an alarming reason, such as a family member’s illness or job loss. How your body handles stress can vary. Under any stress, your body secretes hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
In small amounts, good stress can make you feel energized and help you perform at your best – such as when exercising. But frequent, long-term exposure to stress hormones can lead to chronic high blood pressure and anxiety. It also can make you prone to blood clots. Bad stress is a recipe for heart disease (heart attacks and strokes). It’s the number one No. 1 cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control.
Q: How can I avoid bad stress?
A. You may not get to choose the stressful things that happen to you, but you can control how you respond. For example, being stuck in traffic could have you yelling and screaming. Or you could see it as a welcome opportunity to listen to an audio book or make a mental to-do list.
It’s also helpful to surround yourself with positive people, not negative ones who sap your energy. Put yourself first. Make time regularly to clear your head and do whatever relaxes you: meditate, walk, attend church, etc.
Q: But what if I don’t have time to put myself first or don’t know how to meditate?
A: Chronic stress weakens the immune system. If you don’t voluntarily make time for yourself, your body will likely make the decision for you – from coming down with a cold or the flu to worse illnesses.
Q: What are some warning signs that I’m letting the pressure get to me too much?
A: If stress is making you too irritable, anxious or fatigued – or if you have frequent headaches, muscle tension or diarrhea – those are signs that you should focus on the source of your stress. Talk to your doctor to make sure you don't have a medical condition like vitamin deficiency, depression or a thyroid disorder contributing to your stress.
An ABC guide to relieving stress
Acknowledge the stressful situation and your power to shape your reaction.
Breathe deeply to help you relax and clear your mind.
Channel your thoughts in a positive direction.
HAP members: For more on managing your health and ways to reduce stress, check out our iStrive for Better Health digital wellness manager. Log in to your hap.org account, click on My Health and Wellness and then iStrive for Better Health.