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Stress and Your Health

“I’m stressed out!”
“Yeah? Well I’m more stressed than you are!!”
How many times do we hear people speaking like this? Almost as if being under a lot of stress is a badge of honor. However, stress is a danger to your health. Stress can be just as dangerous to your health as being overweight or sedentary, having high blood pressure, or resorting to smoking.  The purpose of the UPMC Healthy Lifestyle Program is to help you increase your ability to cope with stress and decrease the negative effects it has on your mental and physical health. We will provide the education and skills so you can confidently practice the behaviors and techniques of a healthy lifestyle.

What is stress?

Stress occurs when something that you observe exceeds the capability of your mind to deal with the event effectively. When you believe that you can’t cope with the demands or perceived consequences of the event, stress-reactive areas of your brain increase the concentration of stress hormones in your blood. The mental and physical health effects of stress are due to the elevation of stress hormones that occurs when the stress-reactive areas of the brain are activated. Coping with stress means that you use behaviors and techniques to keep the stress-reactive areas of the brain calm.

What are the effects of stress on the mind?

Upon becoming stressed, you may have difficulty thinking clearly and focusing. Some become depressed or feel “blue.” Another symptom of stress can include experiencing a decrease in your ability to remember things at a younger age than someone who has learned to cope with stress.

What are the effects of stress on the body?

  • Your heart beats more rapidly.
  • Your blood pressure increases.
  • There is an accelerated accumulation of cholesterol into the blood vessels of the heart with narrowing of the blood vessels and an increased risk of having a heart attack.
  • Blood platelets clump together and may plug up a blood vessel in the heart.
  • The ability of the body to heal wounds and resist infectious disease decreases.
  • Autoimmune diseases — such as psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease — may become more active.
  • Your skin may become sweaty.
  • Those managing diabetes may have a more difficult time.
  • Weight is more difficult to manage because you tend to eat foods that are not healthy.

Is stress always bad?

Some aspects of stress response are not always bad. The body's response to stress may help increase the chance of escaping from danger. For example, if you were stressed because of a dangerous situation, the changes in your body would help you flee to safety.

Why is it important to be concerned about coping with stress?

If we do not utilize the behaviors that can help to reduce the influence of stress on health, we increase our likelihood of developing illness.
Learning to cope with stress is just as important as other healthy behaviors, like:
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Managing our weight
  • Exercising
  • Not smoking
The more we do to keep ourselves healthy, the more likely we will go through the aging process being less dependent on others to care us, enjoying our families and friends, and contributing to the joy of others.

Benefits of increasing your ability to cope with stress:

 

Benefits to Mental and Emotional Health​ Benefits to Physical Health​
  • Greater peace of mind and acceptance of aspects of life over which you have no control
  • More patience
  • Less anger, fewer temper outbursts
  • Better interpersonal communication
  • More harmonious relations with family members
  • Improved parenting skills
  • Improved sense of well-being
  • Better ability to manage difficulties; improved self-confidence during stressful situations
  • Improved ability to concentrate and think clearly
  • Greater enjoyment of people and things
  • Less depression
  • More restful sleep
  • Decreased use of medications for pain, sleep, and anxiety
  • Decreased or ceased cigarette smoking
  • Weight loss
  • Less muscle tension
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Slower heart rate
  • Better immune function
  • Less risk of heart disease, stroke, viral infections, and autoimmune diseases
  • A less aggressive course to autoimmune diseases and possibly cancer
 

What can I do to reduce stress in my life?

We cannot take the stress out of your life. But, we can provide you with behaviors that will change the way that your brain responds to stress.
 

We are concerned about the increased concentration of hormones in your blood when you're under stress. The behaviors you learn will help to minimize the hormonal elevation induced by stress.

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