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Coping with Stress

  • 10 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Stress

  • What makes one person feel stress may be completely different than another person’s source of stress. Learning to recognize your individual triggers is the first step to coping with stress.

    What is stress?

    There are different ways to define stress, but most of us think of it as a feeling of being pressured or overwhelmed. Some stress can be good—helping us focus and motivating us to perform or to complete urgent tasks. But too much stress can lead to distress, and this can be unhealthy.

    What causes stress?

    The cause of stress is multi-factorial, a combination of our environment and our physical and emotional selves. What causes stress in some people may not in others.

    “The holiday season is a great example of this. Some people love it, and others find it very stressful,” says Castro Valley doctor Malaika Stoll, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician who practices with Sutter East Bay Medical FoundationOpens new window. “Common causes of stress include work, finances, relationships and new responsibilities, such as caring for aging parents or children. Certainly, when ‘all of the above’ challenge us at once, we will likely feel stressed. Chronic or acute illness can also cause stress.”

    Our bodies react to our environment, and there are physiologic changes that accompany stress. “In times of stress, there are neurologic and hormonal responses that occur in our bodies,” explains Dr. Stoll. “If we sense danger or urgency, we experience a sense of alertness. Our heart rate and blood pressure go up, and we are activated to do what we need to do—whether that’s meeting an important work deadline or veering from an oncoming car.”

    How much stress is too much?

    “If constantly under stress, most of us will eventually start to function less well,” says Dr. Stoll. "It's important to recognize the warning signals."

    The following signs and symptoms may be indications of more serious conditions, such as an anxiety disorder or depression. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it’s time to speak to your doctor.

    • Prolonged periods of poor sleep
    • Regular, severe headaches
    • Unexplained weight loss or gain
    • Feelings of isolation, withdrawal or worthlessness
    • Constant anger and irritability
    • Loss of interest in activities
    • Constant worrying
    • Excessive alcohol or drug use
    • Inability to concentrate

    Ways to reduce your stress

    When it comes to stress reduction, it is important to recognize differences among individuals. For some people, keeping busy is what keeps them going! For others, having quiet time to reflect is what brings out their best selves. All of us can learn to identify triggers. What makes us feel stressed? And what do we do when we feel stressed?

    "Recognizing stressful situations as they occur is key, because it allows you to focus on managing how you react," says Dr. Stoll. "We all need to know when to close our eyes and take a deep breath when we feel tension rising."

    Longer-term solutions to stress may also be necessary. If you are taking out your stress on others or if you are doing things you don’t really want to do—like emotional eating - it may be time to focus on taking better care of yourself by:
    • Re-balancing work and home life
    • Building regular exercise into your routine
    • Reaching out to supportive friends and family
    • Carving out time for a hobby—gardening, reading, listening to music
    • Taking a class
    • Practicing meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction or yoga
    • Getting to bed earlier or addressing the cause of sleep loss
    • Spending time with a loving pet
    • Taking a vacation
    • Seeing a counselor, coach or advisor

    Talking with your doctor can also help. He or she can evaluate your situation and suggest ways to manage your stress.

    Recognizing what you can’t control

    When we focus on situations we can’t really control and when we lose perspective about the big picture—what really matters—we can make ourselves pretty unhappy. Positive thinking is a big part of managing stress.

Have a question for our stress management experts?