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

Tips to cope when it’s time to downsize

Downsizing for a move to a smaller home may lead to feelings of sadness, grief, stress, or anxiety. To cope with those feelings, it helps to reach out to others and stay socially connected, hire a professional to assist with the downsizing process, and engage in a new community and find interesting activities or groups to join. If emotions interfere with the ability to get through each day, one should speak with a primary care doctor or a therapist. (Locked) More »

Does loneliness play a role in cardiovascular problems?

Many older adults are at risk for social isolation because they’re divorced or have lost a partner. But loneliness may slightly raise the risk of heart attack and stroke, perhaps by increasing stress hormones that can harm the cardiovascular system. One explanation for this phenomenon is that solitary people don’t have anyone to help them manage stress and cope with difficult situations. Ways to increase social connectivity include signing up for a class, joining a group (such as a book club), or volunteering. (Locked) More »

How meditation helps with depression

 Image: © skynesher/Getty Images Depression continues to be a major health issue for older adults. It affects about 20% of adults ages 65 and older, and regular depression can lead to higher risks for heart disease and death from illnesses. It also affects people's daily lives by making them more socially isolated and affecting cognitive function, especially memory. In fact, a study of 1,111 people (average age 71), published online May 9, 2018, by Neurology, found that those who had greater symptoms of depression also had worse episodic memory — the ability to recall specific experiences and events. More »

Protect your brain from stress

 Image: © iMrSquid/Getty Images It's not uncommon to feel disorganized and forgetful when you're under a lot of stress. But over the long term, stress may actually change your brain in ways that affect your memory. Studies in both animals and people show pretty clearly that stress can affect how the brain functions, says Dr. Kerry Ressler, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Scientists have seen changes in how the brain processes information when people experience either real-life stress or stress manufactured in a research setting. (For the latter, researchers might challenge subjects to perform a difficult task, such as counting backward from the number 1,073 by 13s while being graded.) Either type of stress seems to interfere with cognition, attention, and memory, he says. More »

Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature

Many men are at higher risk for mood disorders as they age, from dealing with sudden life changes like health issues, the loss of loved ones, and even the new world of retirement. If they do not want to turn to medication or therapy for help, men can find relief by interacting more with nature, whether by walking in the woods, listening to nature sounds, or even looking at pictures of soothing outdoor settings. More »

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

 Image: © kali9/Getty Images Most men don't face much personal loss early in their lives. Yet, once they reach a certain age, they will encounter the experience of losing someone important to them — a spouse, a friend, a relative — and the feelings of grief that often follow. "Grief is a natural response to loss, but it is something that men are not prepared for, and they often struggle to understand how it can affect their lives," says Dr. Eric Bui, associate director for research at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders and Complicated Grief Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. 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. 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 »