Understanding Stress And Its Relationship To Health

By: Dr. Deborah Ubele

April is Stress Awareness Month, making it a good time to talk about stress and its impact on health. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

Q: What exactly is stress?

Stress is an emotional or physical response to a challenge or demand that life throws at us.  Everyone experiences and manages stress in different ways.  Stress is generally thought of as negative; however, in small doses, it can be motivating and protective.  We work harder when stressed.  We may keep our guard up and be more cautious when feeling threatened. We study harder for a test. But if stress is longer lasting, it can have a significant impact on a person’s health and well-being. Stress often impacts how we physically feel.  People can experience a wide range of stress-related symptoms:  headaches, fatigue, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, overeating, lack of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, aches and pains … just to name a few. 

Dr. Deborah Ubele, DO.

Q: What are the most common physical ailments you see as a physician that are stress-related?  And, can stress actually cause illness, or does it just aggravate already existing problems?

Stress, particularly chronic stress, may cause illness, but it can also contribute to pre-existing conditions.  A person may see a rise in their blood pressure, leading to hypertension. Stress can cause increased blood glucose levels, contributing to diabetes. Stress often contributes to acne breakouts and skin condition flares.  Changes in appetite and energy levels may also contribute to weight gain. Stress impacts our mental health significantly as well, often leading to or worsening existing depression. 

Q: What are some easy, effective ways of combating stress?

  • Keep yourself well-hydrated and eat a balanced diet.  Avoid excessive carbs and sweets.
  • Exercise!  Burning off negative energy often fuels positive energy and endorphins, naturally produced chemicals in the body that can trigger positive feelings.
  • Take time for yourself. It’s not always easy to make time for things we enjoy when we get caught up with family/work/life obligations. Even 30 minutes of “you time,” a day to call a friend, read a book, or watch a TV show you enjoy, can do wonders for your mood and well-being.
  • Use a daily planner and set realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Writing things down can help us tackle things in order of importance and need.
  • Don’t get down on yourself when stress gets to you. Go for a walk, or take a refreshing shower. Even a few deep breaths can help one refocus.

Q: I’ve read that vacations are very important for health and well-being but that Americans are taking less time off from work than ever before. What are your thoughts on this?

  • Mental and physical breaks from the day-to-day grind are important. Vacations give us something to look forward to and help us keep important things in perspective.  Studies have shown that people who take vacations are less likely to experience burnout on the job. Additionally, those who vacation often have stronger familial and marital relationships.

Deborah Ubele, DO, is a South Jersey-based board-certified Family Medicine physician with Jefferson Health Primary & Specialty Care. She can be reached at 1-844-542-2273, or visit https://newjersey.jeffersonhealth.org/.

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