There are two kinds of stress – external and internal. External stress can be caused by major life events such as moving, changing jobs, the death of a family member, or a divorce. It can also be caused by everyday pressures such as money worries, work deadlines, arguments, family concerns, and not getting enough exercise or sleep.
Internal stress comes from inside. People are often less aware of internal stress, although it can play an even greater role in daily life. Internal stressors include values, beliefs, goals, and self-image. Although all these things can be positive, they cause stress when people feel they are not living up to their own expectations.
Stress has an undeniable impact on the body. It raises blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and blood flow to the muscles. This response is designed to help the body react to high-pressure situations.
But too much stress can cause symptoms like insomnia, headaches, backaches, and constipation or diarrhea. Chronic stress makes people more accident prone, and can lead to alcohol, tobacco or drug use. It also contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease and weight gain.
To manage stress, identify stressors and avoid them, if possible, or at least manage them. For example, if you know that talking to your sister is going to cause stress, mentally prepare for that phone call. Set limits on what you will and won’t discuss. Start off the call by saying that you can only talk for 15 minutes, then wrap up the call after reaching the time limit.
Reduce internal stress by creating reasonable self-expectations. If you’ve set a goal for yourself – for example, no more junk food – and then you break your resolution, do not spend time beating yourself up. That internal pummeling harms your self-esteem and increases your stress level. In fact, you might make yourself so stressed, that you fail again. Stop the vicious cycle. Each day is a new start. Resolve to do better, and try again.
Manage time wisely and avoid procrastination. The stress of being disorganized turns a simple act – such as leaving the house for errands – into a chaotic experience for everyone involved, including your children.
Exercise regularly and get at least six to eight hours of sleep a night. This “fix” is hard for busy moms (I know this challenge first-hand as a mother of three young children). But exercise and sleep are the best stress reducers we have. Analyze your schedule and make a plan to fit these activities into your life. Your house will be okay. The children will survive. And you will feel better.
Also avoid nicotine, and use caffeine and alcohol in moderation. These crutches exist for a scientific reason. They chemically alter us to feel better. But it’s an illusion. The crash your body experiences afterwards can actually send you into a depressive state.
Stress, and how to cope with it, is a difficult issue. It’s not like getting over a cold or the flu. It’s a chronic condition, such as diabetes, that never goes away. But it can be minimized and managed. For more information and resources to help, please contact your primary care physician.
Melissa Harris-Martorana, MD is an internal medicine physician and member of ProMedica. Physician Group.