Skip to main content

Stress

What is it?

Stress is a feeling of tension or strain that can be caused by many different things. Stress is a normal part of life and sometimes can be good for you. For example, the stress of having a deadline at work can encourage you to work hard and succeed. However, too much stress can make you feel bad and increase your chance of getting sick. The amount of stress that is "too much" is different for each person. Learning to control and cope with stress will help you live a happier and healthier life.

Causes:

You may feel stress because of changes in your life. The loss of a loved one or your job can cause you to feel very stressed. You may have stress because of a happy event, such as having a baby or buying a house. Health problems or having chronic (long term) pain can also increase your stress. Becoming overloaded with things you have to do every day can cause stress. What causes one person to feel stressed may not cause stress in someone else.

What are some problems caused by having too much stress? Too much stress can cause many physical (body) or emotional (mood) changes. The problems caused by too much stress are different from person to person. It is important to tell your caregiver about any new physical symptoms you have. Your caregiver may need to check you for other health problems that can be mistaken for stress. Some common effects of stress include:

  • Feeling anxious. You may feel "uptight" or tense. You may feel like your mind is always racing with thoughts. You may become more forgetful or have trouble concentrating (staying focused on a task).
  • Mood changes. Your mood may change often and suddenly for little or no reason. You may be happy one minute and mad or sad the next. You may get frustrated a lot more than usual. You may feel angry or depressed (very sad) and not know why.
  • Substance abuse. You may find yourself drinking more alcoholic beverages (drinks) to try and decrease your stress. You may be smoking more cigarettes or drugs or taking other street drugs. You may be taking too many prescription or over-the-counter drugs or use them too often. You may be drinking alcohol when taking other medicines. Substance abuse is dangerous and leads to even more stress in life. Abusing alcohol or medicines (even over-the-counter medicine) may cause serious health problems. It may even kill you.
  • Physical symptoms. Sometimes stress causes symptoms that can look or feel like a disease or illness. Some physical symptoms of having too much stress may include:
  • Breathing problems. You may breathe too fast or feel like you are not getting enough air. You may even feel faint or dizzy.
  • Chest pain or heartburn (a burning sensation in your chest).
  • Changes in your ability or desire to have sexual intercourse (sex).
  • Diarrhea (loose BMs) or constipation (hard, small BMs that are difficult to pass or that occur less often).
  • Hand tremors (shaking) or hands that are sweaty or cold.
  • Headaches, backaches, or stiffness in your neck, shoulders, or other muscles.
  • Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is beating harder or faster than usual).
  • Monthly period changes in women.
  • Sleeping problems or feeling tired even after a good night's sleep.
  • Unexplained skin rashes or hives.
  • Upset stomach, abdominal (belly) pain, or increased gas.
  • Weight gain, weight loss, or poor appetite (not feeling like eating).
  • Worsening of other health problems. Most diseases and health conditions can become worse if you have too much stress. Stress can cause your blood pressure to increase which is a risk to your health. If you are diabetic, you may have more blood sugar problems during times of stress. If you have heart problems, you may have more chest pain than usual. It is important to call your caregiver if you feel that stress is affecting your health.

Wellness Recommendations:

  • Learning what makes you feel stressed may help you better deal with your stress. Stay away from stressful things that you cannot change or control, if possible.
  • Ask other people for help. Set goals for yourself. You may find it helps to make a list of things you need to get done. Then do the most important things first. Some people find that cleaning their house or their work space may lessen other stresses.
  • It may also help to clear your mind if you get rid of things you do not need. Do not blame yourself if things do not always go right.
  • Sometimes the best way to deal with stress is to change how you react to it.
  • Take 30 minutes every day to be alone. During this time you may want to explore your spiritual needs through meditation, prayer, dream study, or self-reflection.
  • Talk things over with your family and friends. It often helps to share your concerns and worries. You may want to talk to a counselor if you feel like you do not know how to deal with your problem.
  • Do not worry about things you cannot control, such as the weather.
  • Ask for help with chores at home, such as shopping, cleaning, or cooking.
  • Deal with your problems one at a time instead of lumping them all together. Trying to take care of everything at once may seem impossible. List all the things you need to do and then start with the most important one.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs to lessen stress. Although you may feel better for a short time, they do not help the problems that caused the stress. They also can be habit forming.
  • Exercise at least 3 times a week. Exercise can help to lessen that uptight feeling and will relax you.
  • Take a short time-out period when you feel stressed out during the day. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
  • Stretching may help your tension. Gently roll your head in a circle. Stretch your arms to the ceiling and bend your body from side to side. Roll your shoulders.
  • Try using muscle relaxation. Start with the muscles in your face. Tense them, hold it for a few seconds, and then relax. Repeat this with the muscles in your neck, shoulders, hands, abdomen (belly), back, and legs.
  • Learn how to say "no." It may be hard for you to turn down someone's request for help. But trying to do it "all" causes more stress than just saying "no." Learn to know your own limits and help those around you not to over-step those limits.
  • Take good care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep.
  • Make time for having fun. Take a break from your daily chores to relax.
  • Keep a sense of humor.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.

Herbs:

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with stress.
  • Elethero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with stress.
  • Kava (Piper methysticum) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with stress. Read the label on the bottle carefully. Be sure the label says each pill contains 70% kavalactones.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with stress.
  • Valerian (Valerian officinalis) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with stress.

Supplements:

  • 5HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) has been used, but has not been studied in people with stress.

Complementary Therapies:

  • Acupuncture may help stress. For more information, read the ACUPUNCTURE document available under Modalities.
  • Aromatherapy may help stress. For more information, read the AROMATHERAPY document available under Modalities.
  • Biofeedback may help stress. For more information, read the BIOFEEDBACK document available under Modalities.
  • Guided imagery may be helpful to decrease stress.
  • Massage helps stress. For more information, read the MASSAGE THERAPY document available under Modalities.
  • Meditation may decrease stress. For more information, read the MEDITATION document available under Modalities.
  • Music therapy may help decrease stress.
  • Yoga decreases stress. For more information, read the YOGA document available under Modalities.

Other ways of treating your symptoms:

Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:

  • You would like medicine to treat stress.
  • You feel your problems are getting the best of you and you cannot deal with them without help from a caregiver or counselor.
  • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
  • You have questions about what you have read in this document.

SEEK CARE IMMEDIATELY IF:

  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

References:

1. Buchbauer G, Jirovetz L, Jager W et al: Aromatherapy: evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation. Z Naturforsch [C] 1991; 46(11-12):1067-1072.

2. Eller LS: Guided imagery interventions for symptom management. Annu Rev Nurs Res 1999; 17:57-84.

3. Field T, Quintino O, Henteleff T et al: Job stress reduction therapies. Altern Ther Health Med 1997; 3(4):54-56.

4. Guimaraes CM, Pinge MC, Yamamura Y et al: Effects of acupuncture on behavioral, cardiovascular and hormonal responses in restraint-stressed Wistar rats. Braz J Med Biol Res 1997; 30(12):1445-1450.

5. Malathi A & Damodaran A: Stress due to exams in medical students--role of yoga. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 1999; 43(2):218-224.

6. Miller JJ, Fletcher K & Kabat-Zinn J: Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 1995; 17(3):192-200.

7. Schneider HG, Rawson JC & Bhatnagar NS: Initial relaxation response: contrasts between clinical patients and normal volunteers. Percept Mot Skills 1987; 64(1):147-153.


Last Updated: 11/4/2014

Copyright © 1984- Thomson Micromedex. All rights reserved.

Thomson & A.D.A.M