What is Stress?
Stress can be defined as the brain's response to any demand encountered in daily life. Not all stress is bad. The right amount of stress can be a positive force that helps you to do your best and keep alert. However, too much stress can cause you to be anxious and tense. Stress can affect your body, thoughts and feelings, and behavior. Understanding common symptoms of stress is the first step. Common effects of stress include:
- Stomach upset
- Lack of motivation and focus
- Irritability and anger
- Social withdrawal
- Overeating or undereating
- Sleep problems
Ways to Cope with Stress
Chronic stress can lead to numerous health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Taking the time and steps to manage one’s stress can lead to numerous health benefits. Stress management approaches include:
- Socializing with friends and family
- Taking part in regular physical activity
- Exploring relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation
- Setting aside time for yourself to do activities you enjoy such as reading a book or watching a movie
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine intake
- Getting plenty of sleep
The Cycle of Stress and Insomnia
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, difficult to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to fall back to sleep. Insomnia can be caused by a number of factors such as poor sleep habits, eating too much too late in the evening, having a demanding work/school schedule, and stress. Lack of sleep and stress often go hand in hand. Stress not only has the potential to interfere with sleep, but lack of sleep can also lead to stress. The American Psychological Association reports that “adults who sleep fewer than 8 hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress.” Sleep is a necessary function that allows your body to recover and recharge for the next day ahead. When sleep is impaired your memory, judgement, and mood can be affected.
Adults are recommended to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. There are many ways to improve sleep and over-come barriers to getting the amount of sleep your body needs to fully recharge.
Good sleep habits are often referred to as sleep hygiene. These habits include:
- Sleep when sleepy as to avoid spending time awake in bed
- Avoid clock watching
- Maintain a regular bedtime and wake-up time
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at least 4-6 hours before going to bed
- Use your bed for sleeping and avoid doing other activities such eating, watching TV, and reading while lying in bed
- Regular exercise can help with sleep but avoid it in the 4 hours before bedtime
- Forgo daytime napping
- If you are unable to go to sleep after 20 minutes of lying awake, get up and do something that is calming, then return to bed and try to fall asleep again
- Avoid large meals before going to bed
Utilizing these tips can help to improve sleep, which can lead to less stress. Getting enough sleep and limiting stress can improve overall health and sense of well-being. If you are concerned about your sleep schedule or have difficulties controlling your stress despite taking steps to mitigate your symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider.
Where Can I Learn More?
- Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/manage/ptc-20257015
- National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
- National Sleep Foundation: https://sleepfoundation.org/