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

Breathing lessons

When people experience a stressful event, they breathe from the chest. This is part of the fight-or-flight response whereby the lungs bring in more oxygen to fuel the heart and muscles. Yet people often keep breathing from the chest even when the stressful event has passed. Breathing from the belly can counter this reaction by activating the body’s relaxation response and reducing heart rate and blood pressure. (Locked) More »

The power of forgiveness

Almost everyone has experienced being wronged by a person or group. Dwelling on those events and reliving them over and over can fill a person’s mind with negative thoughts. The REACH method can help a person practice forgiveness, thereby reducing levels of stress and anxiety and increasing self-esteem and feelings of optimism. More »

How yoga may enhance heart health

Practicing yoga promotes overall physical fitness, but it also includes breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation. The combined effect of these practices may improve a number of factors connected with cardiovascular health. For example, yoga helps lower blood pressure, improves sleep, and may dampen artery-damaging inflammation. By evoking the “relaxation response,” yoga may encourage emotional resilience, which can help counteract the heart-damaging effects caused by everyday (and largely unavoidable) stress. More »

Losing steam? Avoid these energy zappers

Lifestyle habits may be to blame for some daily fatigue. For example, eating too much processed food can increase inflammation, which impairs the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the molecule that delivers energy to cells throughout the body. Getting too little sleep or being too stressed out all the time can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which also reduces production of ATP. Eating a healthy diet, getting more sleep, and reducing stress can reduce fatigue. So can avoiding dehydration, exercising more, and staying socially connected. More »

The mental side of recovery

A major health issue, like surgery, an injury, or even a heart attack is hard enough to deal with without having to also confront the stress, anxiety, and even depression that often comes with it. Yet taking care of one’s mental health is just as important as physical health when it comes to recovery. Relying more on social support, focusing on being more active, and using past successful strategies can help. (Locked) More »

Spring cleaning: Why more people are uncluttering the mind for better health

Meditating counters the body’s stress response by triggering the relaxation response—a physiological change that can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The health benefits of meditation are so potent that the practice is used as a treatment or complementary therapy for many conditions, such as high stress, high blood pressure, and chronic pain. There are many forms of meditation, such as mindfulness, transcendental meditation, guided imagery meditation, and tai chi and yoga. (Locked) More »

Grief can hurt — in more ways than one

The emotional side of grieving can affect the whole body and all organ systems, and maybe even the immune system. Grief is associated with stress; heart problems; depression; and depression-related symptoms such as insomnia, social withdrawal, and a loss of appetite. Though it may feel difficult, it’s important to maintain healthy habits during a period of grief, such as eating right and exercising. Social connections—seeing friends and family—are also crucial for good health, even when grieving. More »

Heart palpitations: Mostly harmless

Heart palpitations are common heart rhythm disturbances. Most often people experiencing them feel a sensation like the heart is flip-flopping, skipping beats, or racing. If someone experiences these symptoms alone it typically doesn’t signal a problem, but if they are persistent or are accompanied by dizziness, weakness, or fainting, they should be checked out by a doctor. (Locked) More »

Soothing solutions for irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is most common in people in their 30s and 40s; however, it can occur at any age. The exact cause of IBS has yet to be discovered and it is impossible to prevent. The goal is to focus on managing the condition, which can be done by identifying specific triggers for IBS symptoms and then adopting strategies to make your symptoms less severe and less frequent. The most common treatment approaches are diet, stress management, and medication. (Locked) More »