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Mental stress may be causing you physical harm

You might not notice it, but stressors of stress might actually be implicitly affecting your physical health.

You may think illness is to blame for some of the physical pain you experience: that throbbing headache; your frequent insomnia; or your decreased productivity at work.

But stress may actually be the cause.

Common effects of stress

Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behaviour.

Being able to recognise common stress symptoms can help you manage them.

Unchecked stress can contribute to many health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Common effects of stress

On your body: Headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, change in libido, stomach upset, sleep problems

On your mood: Anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, feeling overwhelmed, irritability or anger, sadness or depression

On your behaviour: Overeating or under eating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol misuse, tobacco use, social withdrawal, exercising less often

Act to manage stress

If you identify stress symptoms, taking steps to manage it can have many health benefits. Explore stress management strategies, such as:

Getting regular physical activity

Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or massage

Keeping a sense of humour

Spending time with family and friends

Adopting a pet

Spending more time in natural, open surroundings

Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

Aim to find active ways to manage your stress.

Inactive ways to manage stress — such as watching television, surfing the internet or playing video games — may seem relaxing, but they may increase your stress over the long term.

And be sure to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol, and the use of illegal substances.

When to seek help

If you’re not sure if stress is the cause or if you’ve taken steps to control your stress but your symptoms continue, see your doctor.

Your healthcare provider may want to check for other potential causes. Or consider seeing a professional counsellor or therapist, who can help you identify sources of your stress and learn new coping tools.

Also, get emergency help immediately if you have chest pain, especially if you also have shortness of breath, jaw or back pain, pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, sweating, dizziness, or nausea.

These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.

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