Stress is a physical and emotional reaction that people experience as they encounter challenges in life. When you’re under stress, your body reacts by releasing hormones that produce the “fight-or-flight” response. Your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure go up, your muscles tense, and you sweat more. Occasional stress is a normal coping mechanism. However, long-term stress (also called chronic stress) may contribute to or worsen a range of health problems including digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, and other symptoms. Stress may worsen asthma and has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
There is no drug to cure stress. But we do have access to a built-in “stress reset button.” It’s called the relaxation response. In contrast to the stress response, the relaxation response slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases oxygen consumption and levels of stress hormones.
Recognize When You Need More Help
If you are struggling to cope, or if the symptoms of your stress won’t go away, it may be time to talk to a professional.
If you are in immediate distress or are thinking about hurting yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HOME to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Read more about getting help.
- Meditation and mindfulness practices usually are considered to have few risks. However, few studies have examined these practices for potentially harmful effects, so it isn’t possible to make definite statements about safety.
- Relaxation techniques are generally considered safe for healthy people. In most research studies, there have been no reported negative side effects. However, occasionally, people report negative experiences such as increased anxiety, intrusive thoughts, or fear of losing control.
- There have been rare reports that certain relaxation techniques might cause or worsen symptoms in people with epilepsy or certain psychiatric conditions, or with a history of abuse or trauma.
- Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity for healthy people when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. However, as with other forms of physical activity, injuries can occur. The most common injuries are sprains and strains, and the parts of the body most commonly injured are the knee or lower leg. Serious injuries are rare. The risk of injury associated with yoga is lower than that for higher impact physical activities. For more information on the safety of yoga, visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s fact sheet, Yoga: What You Need To Know.
- If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to follow the treatment plan prescribed by your health care provider. Following your treatment plan is important because it can prevent or delay serious complications of high blood pressure. If you’re considering a complementary or integrative approach for your high blood pressure, discuss it with your health care provider.
Current studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) are investigating a variety of topics related to stress, including:
- Exposure to stressors and the development of resilience in National Guard recruits during Basic Combat Training and their first 2 years of service.
- The effects of a mindfulness-based diabetes education program targeted at stress reduction on adults who have type 2 diabetes and elevated levels of distress related to their condition.
- The effects of psychological stress, stress resilience, and mindfulness-based interventions on disease activity and symptom severity in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
For More Information
The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
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Know the Science
NCCIH and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide tools to help you understand the basics and terminology of scientific research so you can make well-informed decisions about your health. Know the Science features a variety of materials, including interactive modules, quizzes, and videos, as well as links to informative content from Federal resources designed to help consumers make sense of health information.
A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.
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