Recent studies suggest that over a third of Americans are living with extreme stress. In this time of high unemployment and financial uncertainty, that statistic is probably not surprising. What can be a surprise is the fact that stress affects your body as much as it affects your mind. Stress contributes not only to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, but also to physical health conditions that can be life-threatening.
There is good stress, and there is bad stress. When we’re at rest, we tend to stay at rest — good stress, such as a new exercise regimen, will motivate our bodies to leave their comfort zones, and this helps us to achieve more than we’re used to achieving. However, it is possible to over stress yourself — exercising longer and harder than you should, for example — and this kind of strain can hurt both your body and your mind.
Some people suffer from “acute stress” following one or two large events—a wedding, a divorce, the death of loved one, a serious illness or accident, etc. Others suffer from “chronic stress” in which a continuously stressful lifestyle adds up over time. Both types of stress can be harmful.
Those who suffer from an unhealthy amount of stress might notice anger or irritability, changes in appetite, problems concentrating, trouble sleeping, anxiety issues, memory problems, burnout and a general feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to overcome life’s difficulties. Unsurprisingly, stress can increase your risk for depression.
Stress can also affect your physical health. Stress causes headaches, muscle tension, upset stomach and dizziness, among other things. More seriously, stress can increase your risk for high cholesterol, diabetes, and reproductive problems. Stress can weaken your ability to fight off diseases, and can even make it harder to recover from a heart attack.
As you can see, managing your stress level is very important. Keep an eye on the things that cause stress in your life, and think about how to decrease their impact on your health. Can you avoid the stressor? Can you change the situation that stresses you? And if you can’t change the situation, can you change your own reaction to the situation?
Everyone can handle a different amount of stress, and everyone is stressed by different things. Figure out what makes you happy and calm, and make those things prominent in your life. If you find that your stress has gotten out of control, or if you are concerned that you suffer from depression, Regional Mental Health Center can help. Please call us at (219) 769-4005 to set up an appointment.
Don Levinson is chairman of the Regional Mental Health Center board of directors. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.