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What to know about stress

July 2, 2024
2 minutes

Stress can harm your physical and emotional health. That’s why it’s important to know the signs that stress is affecting you—and how to cope.

What is stress?

When you face a problem or threat, your body releases stress hormones. They make your heart beat faster and increase your blood sugar and blood pressure to help you react quickly in an emergency.

Everyone experiences stress at times. But long-term stress can lead to health problems. Long-term stress might be caused by:

  • Daily pressures, such as bills, your job and other day-to-day challenges.
  • Major life events, like getting divorced or losing a job.
  • Trauma, such as experiencing a war, earthquake or severe injury.

Spot the symptoms of stress

You may feel emotional symptoms of stress, such as irritability, depression and difficulty focusing. You might have physical problems as well, such as an upset stomach or tense muscles.

Over time, stress can lead to health problems like high blood pressure or a weakened immune system. It can make it hard to stay at a healthy weight. And it can cause headaches and problems with sleep.

How to cope

You can take steps to reduce your stress. Try these simple strategies.

  • Adjust your schedule. Plan time for yourself.
  • Choose healthy foods. Eating well can help you stay healthy.
  • Get plenty of ZZZs. Sleep helps your body heal.
  • Give caffeine a break. Too much can make you feel jittery or anxious.
  • Make a move. Exercise can ease tension.
  • Plan ahead. Decide how you will handle a stressful family gathering, for example.
  • Relax your muscles and your mind. Try simple stretches or mindful breathing.
  • Talk to your inner circle. Ask your family and friends for support.

When to seek help

If stress is affecting you, let your primary care provider know. To make an appointment with a primary care provider, visit our Primary Care Physician Directory. If you are in crisis, go to the nearest emergency room or call 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; National Library of Medicine; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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