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

What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health

Meditation is an effective way to reduce stress, anxiety, pain, and depression. There are many different forms of meditation, including transcendental and mindfulness. Women are encouraged to experiment until they find the meditation form most effective for them.  More »

Breath meditation: A great way to relieve stress

Mindfulness-based meditation helps to control stress and preserve health. It combines rhythmic breathing and focused attention. It is a form of entry-level meditation that anyone can do. It brings general relaxation and, if practiced regularly, offers many health benefits, including a more accepting attitude toward life’s challenges. More »

Mini-stroke: What should you do?

The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) often go away on their own, but they are a warning that a person is at greatly increased risk for a true stroke. It’s important for women to get to the hospital within three hours of when their symptoms start. More »

Emotional stress induced ischemia

Emotional stress causes a temporary slowdown in blood flow to the heart in seven of 10 people with heart disease. There’s a medical term for this: mental stress–induced myocardial ischemia. Emotional and mental stress work the same way as inadequate blood flow caused by physical stress and may be just as likely to trigger a heart attack. Learning to cope with stress is the best first option; some people may benefit from antidepressants or other drugs. (Locked) More »

Stress and your heart

Severe, trauma-related stress can lead to a condition called “broken heart syndrome.” The link between ongoing, everyday stress and heart disease may result from stress-related behaviors—such as eating an unhealthy diet, smoking, and drinking. More »

Meditation offers significant heart benefits

Meditation can be a useful part of cardiovascular risk reduction. It appears to produce changes in brain activity that can lead to less sympathetic nerve outflow from the brain to the rest of the body. It also can lower heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress. There are many types of meditation that can result in physiological benefits, such as guided meditation, transcendental meditation, and mindfulness meditation. It takes at least 10 minutes of meditation per day to get the physiological benefits. More »

The four horsemen of forgetfulness

Alcohol, medication effects, thyroid problems, and many other things can contribute to forgetfulness. Especially in older adults, the most common causes of forgetfulness are stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation. It is not uncommon to experience uncharacteristic memory slips after a big life change or stress. But it's important to see a doctor about problems getting enough sleep or about fatigue, which could be the result of inadequately addressed health issues. Multitasking can also contribute to forgetfulness. More »

Breathe away stress in 8 steps

Combining rhythmic breathing and focused mental attention can elicit a healthful physiological state called the relaxation response. Being in the relaxation response for 10 to 20 minutes daily counteracts stress and its unhealthy effects. At the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, the relaxation response is taught as part of post-heart attack rehab and as a tool for controlling high blood pressure. Some people are able to stop taking one or more of their blood pressure medications by consistently eliciting the relaxation response. (Locked) More »