One out of 10 people is "stressed out" at any given moment. When people are under a significant amount of stress, their head may start to hurt, they may feel sick to their stomach, have trouble sleeping or feel overwhelmed.
"Over time, repeated stressful situations put a strain on the body that may contribute to both physical and psychological problems," explained Cynde McCallum, BSN, RN-BC, Program Director of Salem Community Hospital's Behavioral Medicine and Wellness Center.
"Certain situations create stress instantly, such as a significant issue at work or a crisis at home that needs to be addressed right away. When people are stressed out, their bodies respond as though they are in danger. Hormones are made that speed up the heart, make the person breathe faster, and give a burst of energy. This is called the fight-or-flight stress response.
"Stress causes actual chemical changes in the brain, and these changes can influence the state of your health. Virtually all systems of the body, including the heart and blood vessels, the immune system, the lungs, the digestive system, the sensory organs and even the skin are impacted by the body's response to stress."
Over time, stress can affect a person's:
- Immune system: Constant stress can make you more likely to get sick more often; and if you have a chronic illness, stress can make your symptoms worse.
Tips for Reducing Stress
- Give yourself a break: Daily stressors can build up gradually, so try to take time for yourself and enjoy at least one relaxing activity each day, such as listening to music, meditating, or enjoying a soothing bubble bath.
- Get regular exercise: Exercise can relieve both the physical and emotional effects of stress, and daily participation in walking, cycling, dancing, swimming and other activities can all yield health benefits. Consider fitness choices that also deliver specific stress-reducing effects like yoga, tai chi, Pilates, or one of the martial arts.
- Take good care of yourself: Get plenty of rest. Eat well. Don't smoke. Limit how much alcohol you drink.
- Express your feelings: If something's bothering you, don't keep it to yourself. Talk to people you trust, like friends, family, or co-workers, about what's on your mind, even if you're not looking for specific advice.
- Put it in perspective: Step back and ask yourself: will this issue still matter in a year? If the answer is no, take a deep breath and try to move forward.
- Come up with a plan: If there's a specific problem you need to fix, make a list of possible solutions and pick the best one for your situation. Realizing that you have options and coming up with a concrete plan can have a direct effect on stress reduction.
- Accept what you can't control: Some circumstances are simply beyond our control; however, you do have control over how you react to stressful situations. Staying calm and being willing to accept emotional support from others can help in managing stress.
- Set reasonable expectations: Regularly taking on more than you can manage can cause unwanted and unwelcome stress. You are not obligated to accept every request made of you.
- Resolve issues before they become crises: It's natural to avoid unpleasant circumstances, but if you're concerned about a situation, address it early to keep it from becoming more serious, harder to solve, and more stressful for you.
- Heart: Stress is linked to high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), blood clots, and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). It's also linked to coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart failure.
- Muscles: Constant tension from stress can lead to neck, shoulder, and low back pain. Stress may make rheumatoid arthritis worse.
- Stomach: If you have stomach problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, or irritable bowel syndrome, stress can make your symptoms worse.
- Reproductive organs: Stress is linked to low fertility, erection problems, problems during pregnancy, and painful menstrual periods.
- Lungs: Stress can make symptoms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) worse.
- Skin: Skin problems such as acne and psoriasis are made worse by stress.
"Sometimes it's not one specific problem, but rather nagging concerns about your job, health, finances, or family members that can create a steady build-up of stress," Cynde continued. "People usually feel better if they can find ways to effectively manage their stress levels. However, the best ways to relieve stress may be different for each person.
"Everyone feels stress at some time or another," Cynde concluded. "But it is possible to keep stress under control by setting realistic expectations, learning how to keep problems in perspective, enjoying breaks from the daily demands of life, and seeking support from those you trust."
If you are unsure where to go for help, talk to someone you trust who has experience in mental health-for example, a doctor, nurse, social worker or counselor. Ask their advice on where to seek treatment.
The staff at the Behavioral Medicine and Wellness Center at Salem Community Hospital may also be able to answer your questions about mental illness. Call Jamie Benner, Community Liaison, or Cynde McCallum, BSN, RN-BC, Program Director, at 330-337-4935, for more information about their Partial Hospitalization Program or Intensive Outpatient Program. The SCH Behavioral Medicine and Wellness Center offers specialized outpatient treatment for adults facing a range of mental health issues, and is located at 2020 East State Street, Suite J in Salem.