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Stress is a part of life for everyone. When demands on our time, energy, and resources challenge us, we experience stress. A little stress can be harmless and may even be helpful in focusing your energy and effort toward overcoming a challenge. But stress that builds up or lasts a long time can put your health at risk and hurt your relationships at home and at work.

The effects of stress show up through our health, feelings, and actions. You tend to become ill more easily because the burden of stress can weaken your immune system. When you're stressed out, you may worry a lot, feel tired or cranky, and have no energy. For the sake of your health and well-being, it's important to understand how to manage stress before you feel overwhelmed.

Long-term stress can damage your health

Studies show a link between stress and health problems, including:

  • Heart disease: Chronic stress can worsen high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Stress can trigger spasms that block blood flow to the heart, resulting in chest pain and possibly heart attack.
  • Digestive problems:After periods of stress, your body produces more stomach acid. This worsens stomach ulcer symptoms and makes it harder for ulcers to heal.
  • Asthma: For people with asthma, stress can trigger an attack.
  • Anxiety or depression: Stress can worsen feelings of anxiety or depression.
  • Obesity: When stressed, some people tend to overeat, which leads to weight gain.
  • Memory problems: Memory problems and forgetfulness can be signs of too much stress.
  • Skin problems: Stress can make the skin more sensitive, which could worsen psoriasis and other skin conditions.

What are the warning signs of stress?

It's important to know when your stress level is too high. Find a way to lower your stress when you experience warning signs such as:

  • Chest, neck, or back pain
  • Frequent bad temper or sadness
  • Headaches
  • Inability to focus or remember things
  • Lack of energy
  • Muscle tension
  • Nail biting, teeth grinding, or jaw clenching
  • Skin breakouts
  • Skipping meals and other eating and drinking problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Upset stomach

How to reduce stress

Here are two ways to lower stress:

1. Improve situations that you can control:

  • Set realistic expectations on what you can do.
  • Plan ahead to prevent problems.
  • Prioritize what's important when many things need your attention.
  • Ask for help from family and friends.

2. Find ways to manage stress:

  • Try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation.
  • Start an aerobic exercise routine.
  • Confide in trusted friends or loved ones.

If you're finding it hard to cope with stress, call your doctor or a mental health professional. They can guide you on how to respond effectively to stressful situations and help you generate positive thoughts and feelings.