Everyone experiences stress. Our bodies are designed to feel stress and react to it. It keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger. But, when stress is ongoing, the body begins to break down and you can have problems like erectile dysfunction. The key to coping with stress is identifying those conditions in your life causing the stress and learning ways to reduce them.
What Is Stress?
Stress is your reaction to any change that requires you to adjust or respond. It's important to remember that you can control stress, because stress comes from how you respond to stressful events, not the events themselves.
What Causes Stress?
Stress can be caused by anything -- good and bad. Your body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. We all have our own ways of coping with change, so the causes of stress can be different for each person.
Common causes of stress include:
- Death of a loved one
- Legal problems
- Job loss
- New job
- Money problems
When you are not sure of the exact cause of your stress, it may help to know the warning signs of stress. Once you can identify these signs, you can learn how your body responds to stress. Then you can take steps to reduce it.
What Are the Warning Signs of Stress?
Your body sends out physical, emotional, and behavioral warning signs of stress.
Emotional warning signs of stress may include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Unproductive worry
- Frequent mood swings
Physical warning signs of stress may include:
- Stooped posture
- Sweaty palms
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain or loss
- Erectile dysfunction
- Stomach pains
- Blood pressure elevation
- Changes in bowel habits
- Stomach pains
- Sleep disturbance
Behavioral warning signs of stress include:
- Acting on impulse
- Using alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from relationships
- Changing jobs often
- Eating disorders
How Can I Cope With Stress?
To help cope with stress:
- Lower your expectations; accept that there are events you cannot control.
- Ask others to help or assist you.
- Take responsibility for the situation.
- Engage in problem solving.
- Express distressing emotions. Be assertive instead of aggressive. "Assert" your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative, or passive.
- Maintain emotionally supportive relationships.
- Maintain emotional composure.
- Challenge previously held beliefs that are no longer adaptive.
- Directly attempt to change or eliminate the source of stress.
- Distance yourself from the source of stress, if possible.
- Learn to relax.
- Eat and drink sensibly.
- Stop smoking or other bad habits.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Experts agree that coping is a process rather than an event. You may need several different strategies to cope with a stressful situation.
What Are Some Things I Can Do to Relax?
Find a quiet location free of distractions, get comfortable, and try to block out worries and distracting thoughts. Then try these exercises:
- Rhythmic breathing. Count slowly to five as you inhale, and then count slowly to five as you exhale. Pay attention to how your body naturally relaxes.
- Deep breathing. Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling your abdomen with air, and then let it out, like deflating a balloon.
- Visualized breathing. Breathe deeply in a natural rhythm. Picture relaxation entering your body with each inhale and tension leaving your body with each exhale.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas. Let all of your muscles completely relax.
- Relax to music. Pick music that lifts your mood or that you find soothing or calming. Play it while you do other relaxation exercises.
- Mental imagery relaxation. This exercise, also called guided imagery, coaches you in creating calm, peaceful images in your mind. Identify negative thoughts and emotions and replace them with positive affirmations.
When Should I Seek Help for Stress?
You should seek help in dealing with stress when you experience any of the following:
- Marked decline in work/school performance
- Excess anxiety
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Inability to cope with demands of daily life
- Irrational fears
- Obsessive preoccupation with food and fear of becoming obese with no relationship to actual body weight
- Significant change in sleeping or eating habits
- Persistent physical ailments and complaints
- Suicidal thoughts or urge to hurt others
- Self-mutilation, self-destructive or dangerous behavior
- Sustained, withdrawn mood or antisocial behavior
- Decline or marked indifference in interpersonal relationships
Where Do I Go to Get Help for Stress?
Your personal doctor. They can determine if stress is due to an anxiety disorder, a medical condition, or both and can refer you to a mental health professional, if necessary.
If you think you’re having an emergency, call a crisis hotline, or go to the nearest emergency room.