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For Your Health

How stress can affect your health (and how you can avoid it)

Stress is a part of daily life for many people, whether it's dealing with demanding situations in the workplace, at home or anywhere in between. According to a 2018 Gallup Poll, Americans are some of the most stressed people in the world.

While you may not realize it immediately, stress can have a lasting impact on your health, happiness and productivity. Even in small doses, stress can trigger long-term health effects that may not develop until much later, according to a study supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health.

On the other hand, research suggests that feeling happier can help boost your immune and cardiovascular health so you can live a longer life. Not to mention, being happy at work can make you 13 percent more productive.

If stress is something you'd like to have less of in your life, here are some ideas on how to manage it.

Stress and your physical health

Stress can affect your physical health in a number of ways, with the impacts ranging from seemingly mild to potentially life-threatening. Some of the physical symptoms and side effects stress can trigger include:

            • Headaches
            • Muscle tension or pain
            • Chest pain
            • Fatigue
            • Trouble sleeping
            • Gastrointestinal issues

Stress has also been linked to elevated risk levels for heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Stress and your mental and emotional health

Aside from physical effects, stress can also take a toll mentally. Elevated levels of stress can lead to a variety of non-physical issues, including:

            • Anxiety
            • Sadness or depression
            • Irritability
            • Feeling easily distracted or unfocused
            • Loss of motivation

In the long-term, prolonged levels of stress have been linked to more serious conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's.

How stress affects your daily habits

Stress can also affect health indirectly by influencing your habits. For example, when you're feeling stressed, you may be more inclined to overeat or indulge in foods that aren't good for you, drink alcohol or smoke. You may also lose motivation to exercise or stay connected with friends and family. Those habits can lead to more serious issues, such as diabetes caused by weight gain, and alcoholism or depression that comes from feeling socially isolated.

How to manage stress for your health and happiness

Reducing stress levels is something you do in different ways, starting with recognizing your main stress triggers. For example, you might feel financial stress if you're carrying a significant amount of debt. Stress can also be triggered by work, family and friends, or current events in the news.

Once you identify what's causing stress, you can figure out ways to deal with it. If it's your financial situation, then you can start working on a plan to pay down debt or get your budget under control so you can save. Or if it's work that stresses you out, you may consider improving your work-life balance, speaking with your manager or using any helpful resources your company may offer. When personal relationships are a source of stress, setting boundaries or improving communicating may help.

Those are things you can do on a bigger scale, but there are also smaller changes you can make to your daily routine to help cope with stress, such as:

            • Getting more sleep
            • Including exercise in your daily routine
            • Trying meditation or yoga
            • Picking up a new hobby
            • Keep a diary or journal to record your feelings
            • Steering clear of caffeine, junk food or alcohol
            • Cutting back on your time commitments and saying no more often

One final tip for dealing with stress: Don't assume you have to go it alone. If stress — whether it's caused by work, your finances, home life or some other trigger — becomes too overwhelming, then it's okay to seek out help. Talking to a professional can be a good and healthy option if you need outside perspective on managing stress.

Read more about coping with stress.

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