Stress and Health

The effects of stress on the body can lead to an increased risk for many health problems, including:
•high blood pressure
•digestive problems
•depression
•heart disease
•asthma
•weight gain
•memory and learning difficulties
•sleep problems
•difficulty managing diabetes
Given that stress can alter health, it makes sense to know exactly how to increase our abilities to cope with stress. If we are better able to cope with stress, it will be more difficult for the stress-reactive brain areas to become activated. Then, when we experience stress, there will be less of an elevation of the stress hormones and better mental and physical health.
Dr. Rabin recommends the following behaviors to help lower the effects of stress on health:
1. Have a social support system—Try not to deal with stressful events alone. Have a friend, loved one or clergyperson available for sympathetic listening. Spend time with people you enjoy being with.
2. Positive outlook on life—Be optimistic that things will go well.
3. Sense of humor—Remember, laughter really is the best medicine.
4. Healthy lifestyle—Maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, keep a normal routine and get plenty of sleep.
5. Avoid drugs and alcohol—These may reduce stress but only for a little while. In the long term, they may actually add to stress.
6. Seek professional counseling—A professional can work with you to manage and cope with stress.
It’s important for everyone to realize that stress can be physically damaging, and learning how to cope with and manage it is necessary for overall health. Stress isn’t something to brush aside or deal with another day.
UPMC’s Healthy Lifestyle Program, of which Dr. Rabin is director, offers information and education on the effects of stress and how to cope with it.
For more information about the program, call 800-533-UPMC (8762) or e-mail hlp@upmc.edu.

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