Some stress is normal. But too much stress can lead to physical problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. People who are unable to find healthy ways to deal with stress may turn to unhealthy methods of alleviating anxiety, such as overeating, heavy drinking, and smoking, all of which can also cause heart disease.
Risk Factors for Stress-Related Illnesses
People who suffer from high anxiety are at risk for a number of illnesses. Risk factors, or causes of anxiety, may include the following:
- Negative outlook: People who have a negative outlook on life tend to suffer from more stress symptoms than people who have a positive outlook.
- Poor nutrition: Unhealthy food choices put physical stress on your body, which can weaken your immune system and lead to illness.
- Lack of physical activity: A lack of physical activity can leave you feeling sluggish and stressed. Physical activity increases your circulation and promotes a sense of well-being. It can also help you to get more sleep.
- Lack of emotional support: People who do not have enough emotional support have more difficulty dealing with stress than those who have people they can turn to in times of stress.
- Not enough relaxation: People who do not take time to relax tend to be more stressed than those who take time out for themselves.
Here are some things you can do that will help you to manage stress:
- Think positive. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, try to find something positive to focus on instead of dwelling on the negative.
- Exercise. Aim for2 ½ hours of aerobic exercise each week (spread throughout the week in increments of at least 10 minutes). You should also do strength training 2 times each week. Consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet is one that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium (salt). Your diet should include lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice and potatoes.
- Develop a support system. If you find it difficult to meet new people, try to find ways to socialize. You might start by sitting at a new table in the lunchroom at work or attending functions, such as church gatherings.
- Relax. Take time out to do the things you enjoy, even if it is only for a few minutes at a time. Go for a short walk, listen to music or read a book. Do whatever activity is relaxing to you.
- Ask your doctor for help. Your doctor will have access to a team of health care professionals at Wake Forest Baptist Health that can help to develop a stress management program that is right for you. The team may include heart doctors (cardiologists), nurse specialists and others.