CINCINNATI—Whether its school, work, final exams or money trouble, stressors always seems to be nearby.
But stress is in the eye of the beholder, says Sara Goldsberry, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati (UC), and it can be tamed.
“It’s a perception,” Goldsberry says. “What is stressful for one person may not be such a big deal to someone else. It can be a psychological threat, like thinking you are going to fail a test, or a physical threat, like being chased by a large, unfriendly dog.”
Goldsberry says the natural reaction for those under stress is the “fight or flight” response.
“You either battle the problem or run away from it,” she says. “Your body is going to respond in a similar way in either case.”
Goldsberry says physical changes include an increased heart rate, glucose release and muscle stiffness.
“With chronic stress, your body is in a constant state of tension,” she says.
She adds chronic stress often contributes to physical disorders including high blood pressure, reproductive problems and a decreased immune system. High levels of stress can even contribute to the development of depression.
But Goldsberry says there are many ways to cope with stress without excessive alcohol use, overeating or smoking, which many people tend to do, leading to even poorer health.
“It is all about maintaining calm within your body and your mind,” she says. “When you truly learn to control your stress, there can be chaos around you, but you will still feel at ease.”
Goldsberry says meditation, deep breathing and exercise are all effective ways of relieving stress. She notes that progressive muscle relaxation—tensing up your body and then relaxing gradually—and slow, mindful walking also helps to calm the mind and body.
“And these types of exercises can be done anywhere,” she adds.
Goldsberry says relieving stress can even be as simple as hanging out with friends and having a few laughs or listening to music.
“Do whatever you enjoy,” she says. “But no matter what sort of activity you choose, you need to schedule relaxation into your daily routine.”
Goldsberry adds that many stressors can be controlled.
“If you are worrying about money over the holidays, be creative—make gifts,” she says. “If you don’t understand the material for a test, make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to study. Managing one’s time well is often the key to avoiding stress.”
She also says that television, while often thought to be a stress relief, may only be a diversion.
“If there is a show in particular that you really enjoy, that is fine, but watching TV for hours may not be beneficial in the long run,” she says. “I feel there are other positive things people could do to form social networks and develop techniques that can relieve stress.”