Everyone has stress from time to time. Stress can come from good things and bad things in your life. Your body and mind react to these things with a heightened state of readiness -- the â€śfight or flightâ€ť response. This reaction causes your brain to make hormones -- including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline gives you more energy by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol increases the amount of glucose in your blood and tamps down body functions that might be harmful in a fight-or-flight situation, such as digestion and reproduction. It also affects your immune system. This can help you perform well on a test or at a sporting event; but it can also distract you, keep you up at night, and make you lose your appetite.
Your body and mind' s response to a stressful event is designed to end when the event is over. But many of the things that cause stress -- such as work, family, and relationships -- go on for a long time, raising the risk that your stress response could become chronic. Stress becomes chronic when your body doesn' t shut off its stress response, so you are always in a heightened state of readiness. This can lead to mental and physical health problems.
Stress disorders are severe reactions to stress and can happen as a result of trauma, such as witnessing a death, or experiencing serious injury. People with stress disorders feel intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Acute stress disorder happens soon after the traumatic event and lasts for a month or less. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may begin within a few days of an event or may happen later -- sometimes as long as 30 - 40 years after an event -- and lasts for more than 3 months.
Although stress disorders are more uncommon, many people in the U.S. suffer from stress. A 2007 poll by the American Psychological Association found that one-third of Americans report experiencing extreme levels of stress. About one in five said they have high levels of stress 15 or more days per month.
Stress can cause many symptoms, both physical and mental:
Someone with a stress disorder may have the following signs and symptoms:
Short-term stress can come from normal, everyday activities, such as a job interview, a first date, your wedding, buying a house, or taking a test. Chronic stress can be triggered by problems at work, difficult relationships, worrying about money, or dealing with an ongoing illness. Traumas such as war, rape, inappropriate sexual experience, illness, bereavement, or natural disaster may lead to severe stress disorders, such as PTSD.
People with the following conditions or characteristics are at a higher-than-average risk for developing a stress disorder:
If stress interferes with your daily life, talk to your doctor about it. If you have symptoms associated with stress disorder, you should see your doctor right away. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and help guide you in determining treatment that may work best for you.
Your health care provider will do a physical examination, noting if you appear pale, tired, or disoriented. Diagnostic procedures may include a psychiatric exam and psychological testing, and an electroencephalogram to rule out brain damage or diagnose sleep disorder.
Using relaxation techniques and maintaining a positive attitude can help you manage stress and prevent it from becoming chronic. Sometimes simply remembering to take deep breaths can help you cope with stressful situations. If you are dealing with ongoing stressful situations, it is important to take care of your health by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. In the case of stress disorders, crisis intervention can help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder from developing.
While symptoms of acute stress usually decrease with time, long-term stress requires a longer and more complex treatment plan. Crisis intervention may provide support, acceptance, and education. Psychotherapy can help people master their fears and overcome negative behaviors, and a type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy can help you reframe your negative thoughts about stressful situations. Research supports the management of the hormone cortisol, which is released from the adrenal glands when people are under long-term stress. Numerous studies show that regular exercise helps your body and your mind cope with stress.
Your health care provider may prescribe the following medications for symptom relief, although none has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this use:
A comprehensive treatment plan for managing stress may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies. If you take prescription medications or have pre-existing medical conditions, talk to your health care provider before using complementary and alternative therapies.
Although there is no diet to relieve stress, eating healthy meals keeps your body well nourished and strong. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Eat more fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Eat small meals often that contain protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to avoid high and low blood sugar.
These tips can help you maintain a proper diet and stay healthy:
The following nutrients may help specifically with stress, although there is not a lot of scientific evidence:
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs only under the supervision of a health care provider.
Herbs are generally available as standardized dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, tinctures, or liquid extracts (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Mix liquid extracts with your favorite beverage. Dose for teas is 1 - 2 heaping teaspoonfuls per cup water, steeped for 10 - 15 minutes (roots need longer).
The following herbal remedies may provide relief from symptoms:
Few clinical trials have examined the effect of acupuncture on stress. One small study found that acupuncture helped reduce blood pressure levels in people under mental stress. Another study found that auricular (ear) acupuncture successfully reduced anxiety in some people. Because stress can affect a variety of meridians, treatment is based on an individual assessment. Qualified acupuncturists may also recommend lifestyle and dietary counseling and herbal treatment.
No well-designed studies have looked at the effect of chiropractic on people with stress, but chiropractors report that spinal manipulation may reduce stress in some people. Spinal manipulation may have a relaxing effect on the body. There is no evidence, however, that spinal manipulation has any greater impact on stress than other physical relaxation techniques, including massage.
An experienced homeopath can prescribe a regimen designed especially for you for treating stress disorder. The following are some of the most common acute remedies:
Acute dose is three to five pellets of 12X to 30C every 1 - 4 hours until symptoms are relieved.
People with chronic stress or stress disorder are at greater risk of developing other mood or anxiety disorders, or experiencing substance abuse. They are at higher risk of conditions such as heart disease, insomnia, and gastrointestinal illness. Suicide is more common among people with a stress disorder.
With changes in your lifestyle, you can learn to manage chronic stress successfully. People with stress disorders may be treated on an outpatient basis until symptoms get better. In severe cases where there is a concern about self-abuse or suicide, the person may be referred for treatment on an inpatient basis.
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