By Mayo Clinic Staff

Stress basics

Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. A small amount of stress can be good, motivating you to perform well. But multiple challenges daily, such as sitting in traffic, meeting deadlines and paying bills, can push you beyond your ability to cope.

Your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones that increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. This "fight-or-flight" response fuels you to deal with the threat.

Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal, relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop complications of modern life mean that some people's alarm systems rarely shut off.

Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset your alarm system. It can help your mind and body adapt (resilience). Without it, your body might always be on high alert. Over time, chronic stress can lead to serious health problems.

Don't wait until stress damages your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing stress management techniques today.

Stress relief

The pace and challenges of modern life make stress management necessary for everyone.

To monitor your stress, first identify your triggers. What makes you feel angry, tense, worried or irritable? Do you often get headaches or an upset stomach with no medical cause?

Some stressors, such as job pressures, relationship problems or financial concerns, are easy to identify. But daily hassles and demands, such as waiting in a long line or being late to a meeting, also contribute to your stress level.

Even essentially positive events, such as getting married or buying a house, can be stressful. Any change to your life can cause stress.

Once you've identified your stress triggers, think about strategies for dealing with them. Identifying what you can control is a good starting point. For example, if stress keeps you up at night, the solution may be as easy as removing the TV and computer from your bedroom and letting your mind wind down before bed.

Other times, such as when stress is based on high demands at work or a loved one's illness, you might be able to change only your reaction.

Don't feel like you have to figure it out on your own. Seek help and support from family and friends, whether you need someone to listen to you, help with child care or a ride to work when your car's in the shop.

Many people benefit from practices such as deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, meditation or being in nature. Set aside time for yourself. Get a massage, soak in a bubble bath, dance, listen to music, watch a comedy — whatever helps you relax.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you manage stress. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Make a conscious effort to spend less time in front of a screen — television, tablet, computer and phone — and more time relaxing.

Stress won't disappear from your life. And stress management needs to be ongoing. But by paying attention to what causes your stress and practicing ways to relax, you can counter some of the bad effects of stress and increase your ability to cope with challenges.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques are an essential part of stress management. Because of your busy life, relaxation might be low on your priority list. Don't shortchange yourself. Everyone needs to relax and recharge to repair the toll stress takes on your mind and body.

Almost everyone can benefit from relaxation techniques, which can help slow your breathing and focus your attention. Common relaxation techniques include meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, tai chi and yoga. More-active ways of achieving relaxation include walking outdoors or participating in sports.

It doesn't matter which relaxation technique you choose. Select a technique that works for you and practice it regularly.

March 31, 2017