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Work, finances, caring for kids (and sometimes parents) — these are all responsibilities that can make you feel stressed out.

Stress is the body’s reaction to change; it’s a normal part of life and it can be good or bad for your body. Its positive effects can drive you to give a great presentation to colleagues or get a job offer after a tough interview, for example. But major stress, even for a short time, or constant pressure over a long period of time with no relief, can be bad for your health.

“Dealing with stress regularly, no matter what the cause, is bad for your health and can lead to wear and tear on your body,” said family medicine doctor Sireesha Vemuri, MD, Geisinger Mountain Top.

Prolonged or major stress can affect your body, your mood and your behavior, sometimes without you knowing it.

If you suffer from frequent headaches, chest pain, problems sleeping or an upset stomach, the cause could be stress.

Continued strain may make you feel more anxious or overwhelmed, develop focus problems, feel a heightened sense of sadness or depression, and become irritable. And you might react to repeated or prolonged stress by overeating or undereating, drinking alcohol or using tobacco.

If stress is left unmanaged, it can heighten the effects of diseases like diabetes, asthma, arthritis and heart problems.

“Ignoring constant pressure can make health issues you already have worse, in addition to causing health problems like stomach ulcers and even heart disease,” said Dr. Vemuri.

Changes to your lifestyle in response to stress, such as overeating and tobacco use, can also cause health issues.

Stress can also slow healing.

If you have symptoms of stress, the first step is identifying the problem. Then, take measures to reduce or eliminate what’s causing tension in your life.

“Exercise is a great way to reduce or eliminate stress, boost energy levels and improve your mood,” said Dr. Vemuri.

Even taking a walk or removing yourself temporarily from a stressful situation can help you cope.

Other relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation and yoga can help you reduce tense feelings.

And of course, like the adage says, laughter is the best medicine.

“Being able to have a sense of humor about what’s happening in your life can help you deal with negative events,” said Dr. Vemuri. “It’ll help you put things in perspective.”

Getting enough sleep and eating healthy can also help.

And while you might feel that alcohol, tobacco and other drugs can provide temporary relief, turning to these substances regularly can lead to abuse.  

If you are having a hard time identifying what’s causing you stress, or the effects aren’t going away, it’s important to seek help.  Your doctor can help you identify causes and talk to you about coping techniques; he or she might also refer you to a licensed therapist or a professional counselor.

Finally, if constant stress leaves you with sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, seek help immediately.
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