A 2018 global Galllup survey found that Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. According to the poll, 55 percent of Americans surveyed reported that they felt stress during most of the day. That’s 20 points above the global average.
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Stacie Ly, MD, an internal medicine specialist with Scripps Coastal Medical Center Carlsbad, about the effects of stress on health and tips to manage it, including a stress-reducing deep breathing exercise you can do almost anywhere.
Stress is simply the body’s reaction to any situation that requires a response. Depending on the circumstances, that reaction can be physical, mental, emotional or a mix.
“Not all stress is bad,” says Dr. Ly. “A little bit of stress can motivate us to get some exercise, finish a project or reach a goal. However, when we are faced with a situation that we feel is beyond our control or capabilities, stress can feel overwhelming. That’s when it can become a problem.”
Stress can stem from a variety of triggers, including your job, relationship, family, finances, health and more. Major life events, such as changing jobs, getting divorced or losing a loved one often bring on major stress.
“Even positive events, such as moving to a new home or starting an exciting new job, can create a lot of stress,” says Dr. Ly. “When you have too many stressful things going on at once and feel you can’t keep up with the demands, it can become difficult to cope.”
Stressful events can set off a slew of physical and emotional reactions. High blood pressure, a racing heart, upset stomach, headache and muscle pain are just a handful of common stress responses. Emotional reactions often include trouble sleeping, depression, anxiety, irritability, eating too much or not enough and turning to alcohol or drugs for relief.
“You hear people say that stress kills, and it certainly can,” says Dr. Ly. “Some of these reactions can cause serious health problems, such as heart attack or stroke. Overeating can lead to obesity, which is associated with diabetes and other diseases. Depression and anxiety can lead to substance abuse.”
Additionally, stress can spill over into relationships, creating tension among family and friends and affecting performance at work or school.
Everyone has stress, but its effect on your health depends in part on how you react to it. When you start to notice warning signs of too much stress, such as ongoing irritability or anger, behavior changes or excessive use of alcohol, it’s time to get help.
“Start by making an appointment with your primary care physician to talk about your symptoms,” suggests Dr. Ly. “You also can talk with a therapist or other health professional, but don’t try to get through it on your own and risk your health.”
Along with seeing your physician, make time to take breaks. A few suggestions:
- Exercise or practice yoga, tai chi or meditation
- Seek out a friend for a walk or coffee
- Do something fun with your family
- Listen to music or read a book
- Play an audiobook or podcast during your daily commute
Ideally, says Dr. Ly, your stress breaks should be 20 to 30 minutes, but even 10 minutes will help if that is all you can manage.
Dr. Ly also recommends taking a few minutes throughout the day to do a deep breathing exercise, which she demonstrates in the video.
“Deep breathing interrupts the body’s stress response by slowing down the heart rate and lowering blood pressure,” she says. “It’s something you can do almost anywhere, even sitting in your car, and it can help you feel more in control.”