Stress

Stress is bumper-to-bumper traffic when you're in a hurry. It's a worrisome illness, an argument with your partner, a job turning sour. It's the need to care for an ailing parent and a pile of unpaid bills.

Stress has many faces, and creeps into our lives from many directions. No matter what causes it, stress puts the body and the mind on edge. It floods the body with stress hormones. The heart pounds. Muscles tense. Breathing quickens. The stomach churns.

The body's response to stress was honed in our prehistory. Collectively called the "fight-or-flight" response, it has helped humans survive threats like animal attacks, fires, floods, and conflict with other humans. Today, obvious dangers like those aren't the main things that trigger the stress response. Any situation you perceive as threatening, or which requires you to adjust to a change, can set it off. And that can spell trouble.

Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. It can dampen the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other common infections. It can contribute to asthma, digestive disorders, cancer, and other health problems. New research even supports the notion that high levels of stress somehow speed up the aging process.

Though stress is inevitable, you can help control your body's response to it. Exercise, meditation, invoking the relaxation response, and mindfulness are great stress busters.

Stress Articles

Tuning in: How music may affect your heart

Music engages many different areas of the brain, which may explain why listening to music may boost exercise ability, ease stress and anxiety, and enhance recovery from heart surgery and strokes. Listening to or creating music (playing an instrument or singing) triggers the release of a brain chemical that makes people feel engaged and motivated, which may allow people to exercise longer. Relaxing music may lower a person’s heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure—perhaps because sound processing begins in the brainstem, which also controls the heart rate and respiration. Patient-selected music shows more benefit than music selected by someone else. (Locked) More »

How to overcome grief’s health-damaging effects

Grieving over the death of a spouse, friend, or family member exposes people to many months of constant stress that can lead to anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and general aches and pains. This can place people at a greater risk for a heart attack, stroke, or even death, especially in the first few months of losing someone. Adopting several mind-body strategies designed to help lower and manage stress can help people get through the grieving process. (Locked) More »

6 simple tips to reduce your blood pressure

Many women suddenly found themselves with a diagnosis of high blood pressure when the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association lowered the threshold for high blood pressure to 130/80 from 140/90. Small strategies, such as watching sodium intake and losing even a small amount of weight can help reduce blood pressure. More »

Is stress making your allergy symptoms worse?

Feeling stressed can affect allergies. One effect is psychological. Since stress amplifies the emotional reaction to any symptoms, it can also affect how bothered one feels about allergy symptoms. The other effect of stress on allergies is physical. Stress can make the allergic response worse. It’s unclear exactly why, but it may be because stress hormones can ramp up the already exaggerated immune system response to allergies. Therefore, stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, may help relieve allergy symptoms. (Locked) More »

Mental stress, gender, and the heart

In people with heart disease, mental stress can lead to reduced blood supply to the heart, a phenomenon known as mental stress–induced ischemia. This problem seems to result from different physiological effects in women and men. More »

Ramp up your resilience!

Coping with stress in a positive way is known as resilience, and it has many health benefits. It’s associated with longevity, lower rates of depression, and greater satisfaction with life. There are many ways to increase resilience. Practicing a meditation technique counters stress by eliciting the relaxation response, which helps lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, and stress hormones. Seeing the upside rather than the downside of a predicament can also help build resilience. So can leaning on friends and family. More »

Stress relief tips for older adults

Stress in adults, especially older adults, has many causes. You may experience it as a result of managing chronic illness, losing a spouse, being a caregiver, or adjusting to changes due to finances, retirement, or separation from friends and family. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do for stress relief. The type of stress relief that works best depends on what someone is experiencing. For example, if insomnia is a considerable source of stress in adults, a special type of cognitive behavioral therapy designed to treat insomnia, called CBT-i, may help. It aims to correct ingrained patterns of self-defeating behavior and negative thoughts that can rob you of sufficient amounts of sleep. In fact, the American College of Physicians now recommends CBT-i over medications as the first-line treatment for insomnia. If disability is a source of stress, changes in your home may help you live more independently. Turn to your doctor, a geriatrician, an occupational therapist, or a staff member at your local council on aging for guidance. More »

Take steps to prevent or reverse stress-related health problems

The relaxation response helps to manage stress. It may also reduce the activity of genes that are harmful to health. For example, it may activate genes associated with dilating the blood vessels, and reduce activity of genes associated with blood vessel narrowing and inflammation. That may help lower blood pressure. Practicing this approach for 10 to 20 minutes daily brings positive physiological benefits. Techniques to evoke the relaxation response include focused breathing and guided imagery, among many others. More »

How to stay motivated

Want to make a change but wondering how to stay motivated? Dr. Srini Pillay talks about the things that can impact personal motivation and the power of a sense of meaning to help you stick with your goals. More »