What is stress?

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Stress is your body's response to a hard situation. It can be physical, emotional, or mental. When you are stressed, your body responds as though you are in danger. It makes hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster, and give you a burst of energy.

Some stress is normal and even useful. Stress can help if you need to work hard or react quickly. But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can cause health problems.

What can you do to prevent stress?

You might try some of these things to help prevent stress:

  • Manage your time. This helps you find time to do the things you want and need to do.
  • Get enough sleep. Your body recovers from the stresses of the day while you are sleeping.
  • Get support. Your family, friends, and community can make a difference in how you experience stress.
  • Limit your news feed. Avoid or limit time on social media or news that may make you feel stressed.
  • Do something active. Exercise or activity can help reduce stress. Walking is a great way to get started.

Dealing with stress from life changes

Sometimes life feels manageable. And other times, life feels overwhelming—like when you are in the middle of a big change or challenge.

It's not always easy to imagine that things are going to get better. But they will change. And this is just one chapter of your life, a chapter that might help you learn and grow in unexpected ways.

You might feel like you don't have much control right now. But there are some small things you can control that could help your body or mind.

  • Pay attention to sleep and exercise.

    Good sleep and regular exercise can bring big benefits.

  • Practice deep breathing.

    It calms the nervous system and helps bring you back to the present moment.

  • Accept things as they are.

    Instead of asking "Why did this happen?" try asking "What can I learn from this?"

  • Practice balanced thinking.

    Instead of thinking "My life will never be the way it used to be," try thinking "This is going to be a challenge for a while. But I can learn to adapt and still enjoy my life."

  • Do less.

    Try to let go of things that aren't really necessary.

  • Take a few minutes for you.

    For example:

    • Go for a walk.
    • Take a relaxing bath or shower.
    • Step outside and gaze at the sky.
    • Read something funny.
  • Listen to others who've been through something similar.

    This could mean going to a support group. It could also mean reading or sharing stories on a blog or other online resource.

  • Let yourself feel what you're feeling.

    Ask a friend to just listen. As you talk, do your best not to fix, change, or judge your feelings.

  • Talk with a counselor.

    A counselor can be a great resource to help you get through a difficult time.

  • Explore why you want to feel less stress.

    It's important to think about why you want to feel less stressed. If you understand why you want something, it can increase your desire—and ability—to do it. So ask yourself these questions, and write down your ideas.

    • Why do you want to experience less stress in your life?
    • How would that change how you feel or change your day-to-day life?

What are some things you could try to lower stress in your life? What if you picked your favorite idea and committed to it—just for the next 2 weeks? Then you could see if it might be worth continuing, or if you want to try something else.

You probably know what's worked for you in the past. And that may help you know what could work now.

How does stress affect your health?

Stress can have bad effects on your health, emotions, and relationships. Long-term stress can make you more likely to get sick, and it can make symptoms of some diseases worse. Stress can also make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.

What is stress?

Stress is your body's response to a hard situation. Your body can have a physical, emotional, or mental response. Some stress is normal and even useful. Stress can help if you need to work hard or react quickly. But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can cause health problems.

What causes stress?

A lot of things can cause stress. You may feel stress when you go on a job interview, take a test, or run a race. This kind of short-term stress is normal and even useful. It can help you if you need to work hard or react quickly. For example, stress can help you finish an important job on time.

Long-term stress is caused by ongoing stressful situations or events. Examples of long-term stress include long-term health problems, ongoing problems at work, or conflicts in your family. Long-term stress can harm your health.

Stress is a normal part of life, and everyone experiences it. There is a lot you can do to help avoid it and manage it.

What is the connection between stress and back pain?

We all "hold" stress in different ways. Some people hold stress in their minds. They may worry so much about a problem that they can't think clearly.

If you hold stress in your body, it can affect your back. You may start to tense your back muscles, which can lead to back pain or make it worse.

Stress and back pain can create a vicious circle. You have back pain, and you start to worry about it. This causes stress, and your back muscles begin to tense. Tense muscles make your back pain worse, and you worry more … which makes your back worse … and so on.

How can you assess your stress?

What causes stress for you may not cause stress for someone else. Only you can figure out whether you have too much stress in your life.

Answer these questions to learn more about your stress:

What job, family, or personal stress do you have?
Stress can be caused by an ongoing personal situation such as caring for a family member.
Have you had any recent major life changes?
Getting married, moving to a new city, or losing a job can all be stressful.
Do your beliefs cause you stress?
Some people feel stress because their beliefs conflict with the way they live their life.
How do you cope with stress?
The ways that you cope with your stress can help you or make stress worse. For example, sleep helps your body recover from the stresses of the day. Not getting enough sleep means you lose the chance to recover from stress.

How to eat healthier foods when you're stressed

When your life gets hectic, finding time to shop for fresh food or to prepare healthy meals can be hard.

It might help to think about your food choices in a different way. Start by trying to imagine a healthier you. And then come up with something small, something that works for you. After you've thought of an idea, it might help to write it down. Give it a try.

  1. Think about a food choice you've made when you were stressed or short on time.

    Let's say you stopped for a burger and fries. How did you feel afterwards? Were you disappointed in yourself? Or maybe you had low energy or just didn't feel your best.

  2. Now, think about making a healthier choice.

    Picture yourself making a fresh sandwich filled with tasty greens or other vegetables. How would you feel then? Would you feel proud of yourself for staying with your plan? Would you feel more energized? Feeling good about your choices may help you feel a little less stressed.

  3. Take a small easy step.

    Think about some small, convenient steps you can try this week.

  4. Make a commitment.

    Out of all of your steps, which one do you feel most confident about or ready to start? That commitment is a big first step toward healthier eating.

This is your commitment to yourself. Focusing on the benefits can help you make healthy eating a priority, even on your busiest days.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.