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

How a sleep shortfall can stress your heart

Chronic sleep deprivation strains the cardiovascular system, which may raise the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The most common cause, insomnia (trouble falling and staying asleep) often stems from stress, depression, or anxiety. Sleep apnea, which causes loud snoring and frequent breathing lapses during sleep, is more prevalent in people at risk for heart disease. (Locked) More »

Tips to avoid caregiver stress

People who provide in-home, long-term care for older adult family members with a chronic illness are often overwhelmed by it. The weight of the job may result in a type of stress known as caregiver burden. This can manifest in many ways, including physical ailments, mental illness, and social isolation. To avoid caregiver burden, one can ask for help, either from a family member or a service; take care of yourself physically; pay attention to emotional health; reduce stress; and maintain social connections. (Locked) More »

Retirement stress: Taking it too easy can be bad for you, too

Retirement brings many changes, including a less structured day and an altered home life. It takes time and effort to make the transition successfully. Being engaged mentally and socially is also key to well-being in retirement. Doing too much or doing too little can lead to anxiety, depression, and other health issues. Men need activities that structure their time and are meaningful to them. Taking hobbies and interests to a more challenging level, providing service to others as a community volunteer, and learning new skills can all fuel a man’s mental and social engagement. (Locked) More »

Stressful job may raise stroke risk

Having a demanding job with little control may slightly increase the risk of a stroke. Job strain may activate factors that predispose a person to developing a blood clot, which can lead to a stroke. (Locked) More »

Can deep, slow breathing lower blood pressure?

Deep, slow breathing may dampen nerve activity that activates the “fight-or-flight” response, causing blood vessels to relax and widen. A device called RESPeRATE that monitors, directs, and slows a person’s breathing is approved as a nondrug method for lowering blood pressure. But the evidence to support its claims is weak. Practicing the “relaxation response” (a stress-reducing technique) may provide similar benefits without the need for a device.  (Locked) More »

The problem with plaque: Even lesser amounts are still risky

A normal stress test can often provide reassurance that there are no severely narrowed segments in the heart’s arteries. But many people with normal stress tests may still have plaque buildup in the coronary arteries that is too small to show up on a stress test. This is known as non-obstructive coronary artery disease, and it can lead to heart attack or death, especially if there are many areas of plaque or multiple coronary arteries are affected. Recognizing and treating this condition with medicines and lifestyle changes can reduce heart attack risk. (Locked) More »

Best ways to manage stress

Stress takes a toll on physical and emotional health. Managing stress is a matter of avoiding stress triggers and practicing techniques to reduce stress. Activities such as meditation, guided imagery, yoga, and deep breathing exercises trigger the relaxation response, a physiological change that can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen consumption. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help identify negative thinking and replace it with healthy or positive thoughts. Goal setting helps develop a positive sense of commitment and control. More »

Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response

The term "fight or flight" is also known as the stress response. It's what the body does as it prepares to confront or avoid danger. When appropriately invoked, the stress response helps us rise to many challenges. But trouble starts when this response is constantly provoked by less momentous, day-to-day events, such as money woes, traffic jams, job worries, or relationship problems. Health problems are one result. A prime example is high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression. We can't avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them. One way is to invoke the relaxation response, through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways, including meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation. More »

The exercise stress test: What to expect

Once done as part of a routine check-up, exercise stress tests are now done mostly to diagnose possible heart disease in people with symptoms such as chest pain or breathlessness. They can also help determine how hard a person should exercise. During the test, a person walks on a treadmill at progressively faster speeds while an electrocardiogram (ECG) measures the heart rate and the heart’s electrical activity. Findings from the test may suggest a need for further testing or treatment.  (Locked) More »

Is that mood change a sign of something more serious?

Mood-related symptoms can come and go in response to everyday stresses. If they occur for long periods, cause significant distress, or interfere with daily functioning, it’s an indication to seek help. Mood changes may be the result of a psychiatric disorder, a sleep disorder, a medication’s side effect, or changes in brain structures or chemical neurotransmitter systems. A significant mood change that lasts for more than a few weeks should be evaluated by a health care professional.   More »