Coping with stress

Adults are highly impacted by stress in their early to late 20’s, but that doesn’t mean other age ranges are not. In fact, it may be more difficult to physically cope with stress as we age to deal with the risks to our physical wellness. Susan Panah, DO, an Internal Medicine physician who practices with St. Clair Medical Group mentions, “Stress is a feeling we all experience when we are challenged or overwhelmed.  Whether it is trying to get more done than you have time to do or prepare for an event in the future.”

The emotional toll travels through all of your body affecting thoughts and feelings. Chronic stress can lead to other health problems such as weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and decreased immunity. It can also trigger the body’s fight or flight response which means it causes inflammation, the body’s initial line of defense against infection or injury. Inflammation caused by chronic stress makes wounds heal at a slower pace and worsens autoimmune diseases and increases the susceptibility to infection.

You may experience stress if you:

  • Feel under lots of pressure
  • Face big changes in your life
  • Consistently feeling worried
  • Don’t have much or any control over the outcome of a situation
  • Have responsibilities that you find overwhelming
  • Don’t have enough work, activities or change in your life
  • Experience discrimination, hate or abuse
  • Are going through a period of uncertainty

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching
  • Stomach or digestive problems
  • Weak immune system

“In an ordinary day, most of us spend a large portion of our time engaged in what psychologists called call ‘mind wandering’. This may consist of reliving an argument from earlier in the day, worrying about a future event, or replaying painful events from the past. These all increase stress,” says Dr. Panah.

The opposite of mind wandering however is mindfulness. Mindfulness is consciously turning our attention to whatever we are doing at the present time. This is not an easy task for most individuals. In fact, most people have a hard time practicing mindfulness. However, individuals who have mastered mindfulness suggest that if we practice this technique regularly we can gain more control over are conscious minds, which reduces stress. Basically, this means that it is possible for us to live more fully in the present and to avoid getting stuck in memories of the past or caught up with concerns about the future. With routine practice of this therapeutic technique, we can leave our stress behind us and regulate emotions to ease pain and fatigue. Mindfulness training helps to reverse the oncoming of stress and can have positive effects on the body.

“The next time you are about to become stress-induced, imagine watching yourself on a movie screen. Stepping outside of the situation before you react will help you gain an instant calming sense of prospective rather than getting caught up in the moment,” says Dr. Panah.

Do you find stress impacting your daily routine? If so, you may want to consult with your primary care provider (PCP) to understand the symptoms and best practices to reduce this emotional and physical toll. Learn more about St. Clair Medical Group here and how to find the nearest PCP office for you.