Stress and Your Health

Stress is normal.

Again, stress is normal. Stress presents when you experience change, a challenge, or demanding circumstances in everyday life. There are benefits to stress, as it provides the energy and alertness you need to get things accomplished. However, chronic stress can lead to serious health concerns which you should be aware of.

What are the benefits of stress?

Stress comes from our innate fight-or-flight response. When the brain perceives a threat, it triggers the release of stress-producing chemicals which increase your blood pressure and heart rate. These enhance your senses so you can react to a physically stressful situation with focus, such as quickly moving out of the way to avoid a car accident.

Stress, in small doses, also has many benefits for managing challenges of daily life. It boosts your memory, motivates you and helps you accomplish tasks efficiently. However, not all stress is beneficial.

When is stress bad?

Whether you’re at home dealing with never-ending housework, at work tackling a big project, or watching news on the COVID-19 pandemic, stress is bound to present. The question is, at what point does stress go from being a good thing to something that impacts you negatively?  How much stress is too much?

While a little stress is good, prolonged stress can lead to serious health consequences. If you listen to your body, it will let you know that you’re struggling with too much stress. Look out for these symptoms of bad stress:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to complete tasks
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Irritability
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Susceptibility to sickness

What are the health risks?

Once you begin experiencing symptoms of bad stress, there are many detrimental physical and psychological side effects that can follow. Your body does not cope well with the effects of stress long-term. When stress becomes chronic, you may experience digestive issues, sleep disorders, suppressed immune system, reproductive issues, and many more. Over time, the continual strain on your body may contribute to other serious health issues like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

Those with chronic stress are also more prone to mental health issues such as anxiety, mood disorders, and depression.

How do I reduce stress?

Stress is a natural part of life. However, if you are experiencing chronic health concerns, you may be enduring the negative side effects of stress. Practicing stress management techniques like breathing exercises, physical activities, yoga and getting the sleep and nutrition your body needs will all help improve your body’s response to stress.

If you’re struggling with stress-related health issues, don’t hesitate to seek medical care and management.

  • Call your family physician and schedule an appointment. Many providers are performing video/phone visits during the COVID-19 quarantines.

If you’re stress or exacerbation of anxiety is primarily due to the COVID-19 crisis, below are resources that can help.

  • Optum has a toll-free 24-hour Emotional Support Help Line at (866) 342-6892 for people who may be experiencing anxiety or stress in regards to COVID-19.
  • The National Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 offers crisis counseling and emotional support 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing distress or other mental health concerns during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The Hopeline is also available 24 hours a day at either (919) 231-4525 or 1-877-235-4525.
  • Local Management Entities – Managed Care Organizations (LME-MCOs) can provide resources for Medicaid beneficiaries and individuals without insurance.

  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-TALK) offers free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention, and crisis resources and best practices for professionals.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has also provided tips for taking care of your behaviors health during social distancing, quarantine, and isolation from an infectious disease outbreak like COVID-19.

  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has guidance for helping families cope with COVID-19.

  • The World Health Organization has published a resource for mental health considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Resources also available via North Carolina Department of Health and Human Resources.