Stress Less

Stress: We all experience it. Not all stress is bad, of course. Training for a marathon, preparing to defend your dissertation, or working toward any other big goal can be a form of healthy stress. However, unmanaged, day to day aggravations and major life upheavals can eventually take a toll on your health.

What Is Stress?

Stress is your body’s way of preparing for a threat—real or imagined. When you’re stressed, your body physically prepares for danger. Your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate, your blood is diverted to your muscles. It’s the classic “fight or flight” mode. When the immediate danger passes, your physiological functions return to normal.

People who struggle with chronic stress, however, are stuck in “fight or flight.” Over time, chronic stress can cause headaches, sleep problems, sadness and anger, as well as serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression.

Adults are not the only ones who experience stress. Family challenges (divorce or moving, for example), too many scheduled activities, and struggles with peers can stress children, causing them to wet the bed, act out, have trouble sleeping, or complain of headaches and stomachaches.

Today, many of us are facing a new kind of stress: technostress. Are you tethered to your electronic devices? Do you constantly check texts, emails, or the latest social media post? According to the American   Psychological Association, about 43 percent of Americans are self described “constant checkers,” and one out of five of us identify technology as a somewhat or very significant source of stress, especially when outside of work.

Do You Have Signs of Chronic Stress?

  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Diminished concentration

Managing Stress

You can manage your stress‑in small and big ways. Here are a few tips for managing your stress:

Breathe. Yes, just the simple act of taking a few slow, mindful breaths throughout the day can significantly reduce your stress.

Unplug. Periodically unplugging (taking a digital detox) is good for your‑and your children’s‑mental health. Designate certain times, such as dinner hour, as electronic‑free times. Turn off notifications. Those little dings that announce a new message produce bursts of feel‑good hormones in your brain.

Connect Socially‑IRL (in real life). Keeping up with friends and family on social media is great, but don’t let it replace spending quality time with people you care about—especially your children. One  of the best ways to help your children manage stress is to make time for them. Use time together to encourage them to talk about what causes them stress and model good stress‑management behavior.

Take Care of Yourself. Eat right, exercise, limit your alcohol consumption, get enough sleep, and spend time on enjoyable activities.

Recognize the Signs of Being Overstressed. If you suspect stress is getting the best of you or someone in your family, talk to your doctor before it starts affecting your long term health. Do you need help finding a primary care doctor? Call UPMC Susquehanna 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 570-321-1000, or visit UPMCSusquehanna.org.