Choosing between Pilates and yoga

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. It’s a normal reaction to the pressures of daily life or traumatic events. Although everyone copes with stress in their own way, it’s important not to let it get out of control.

Stress is a part of life for everyone. Even positive life events like weddings or a new job can have stressful effects. However, when stress interferes with daily life, it can cause serious health consequences.

To protect your physical and mental well-being, learn how stress affects your body and mind — and how to manage it.

What Happens During Stress

Stress is how your brain and body respond to any type of challenge, or stressor.

Stressors come in many forms. They can be routine — such as pressures from daily life, school, work, and relationships. They can be sudden — such as an accident or job loss. They can be short-term — such as a divorce. Or, they can be long-term — such as a chronic illness.

Stress triggers your body’s “fight-or-flight” survival response. It helps you manage a perceived threat or keeps you out of harm’s way.

According to the American Psychological Association, these are changes your body typically experiences when faced with stressors:

  • Your pulse quickens.
  • Your breathing gets faster.
  • Your muscles tense.
  • Your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity.

A reaction in your brain also triggers an increase in the production of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, or cortisol. Known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol provides the energy needed to deal with the stressor.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

How Stress Affects Your Health

Your body can take small doses of stress. But ongoing — or chronic — stress can impact your mental and physical health. With chronic stress, the body never gets the signal to return to normal. It stays in survival mode.

Chronic stress can affect many systems in your body, including:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Endocrine
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Nervous
  • Reproductive
  • Respiratory

Too much cortisol can disrupt communication between your body’s endocrine and immune responses. This disruption can lead to various health issues, including:

  • Chronic fatigue.
  • Depression.
  • Immune disorders.
  • Metabolic disorders (such as diabetes and obesity).

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

It’s important to take stress seriously. If you’ve been dealing with stress for a while, you may not realize it’s out of control. Do you have any of these common signs and symptoms?

  • Anger, tension, or irritability.
  • Anxiety and fear about the future.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  • Feeling numb or powerless.
  • Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems.
  • Increased use of alcohol, abusing prescription drugs, and/or illicit drug use.
  • Loss of interest in normal activities.
  • Nightmares and recurring thoughts.
  • Sadness, crying, and other signs of depression.
  • Sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

If you have any of these symptoms, take time for stress management and mental health. Try self-care as a form of stress management.

Self-Care Tips for Stress Management

You can’t control the stressors life throws at you. But you can try these self-care tips to better handle mental stress and your reaction to it. It helps when you practice them proactively and routinely:

  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. The problems caused by using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress outweigh any short-term relief. They can lead to dependency or overdose. Instead of relieving your stress, alcohol and drugs can add to it.
  • Connect with family and friends. A good social support network helps you get through stressful situations. Reach out to them for emotional and practical support.
  • Get professional help. If you’re overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor. They can recommend a mental health provider who can help.
  • Incorporate relaxation techniques. Mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, or yoga can help.
  • Practice daily self-care. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Get good, consistent sleep. Engage in daily exercise.
  • Prioritize tasks. Decide what you have to get done now and what can wait for later. Learn to say “no” to new responsibilities if you’re overwhelmed.
  • Stay active. Take mental and physical breaks. Getting together with friends, volunteering, or even walking the dog can provide a much-needed distraction.

UPMC provides behavioral and mental health services throughout the communities we serve. To find care near you, visit our website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

Stress Effects on the Body. American Psychological Association. Link.

Coping with Stress. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Dealing with Stress. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

5 Things You Should Know About Stress. Link.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.