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May 2022 is Mental Well-being Month

Anxiety and stress: what is normal?

It’s normal to experience some moments of anxiety and stress in your life, like feeling nervous about public speaking or a job interview. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, your stress response is a survival mechanism that motivates you to get through life’s demands. 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 helps you 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. Stressors that won’t go away can cause chronic stress. Chronic stress makes you feel like you are in fight-or flight mode all the time. This response can damage your physical and mental health when you feel it for long periods of time.

Chronic stress may leave you feeling angry and irritable. It can lead to sleep problems and fatigue, lower your ability to concentrate, and cause headaches. Muscle aches and digestive difficulties are also common. Chronic stress can eventually lead to heart problems.

The roots of chronic stress vary widely, from situations like having a toxic friendship, to difficulties people can’t control such as poverty, racism, and discrimination. People respond differently to stressful circumstances, so a situation that one person might find tolerable can become a source of chronic stress for another person.

Chronic stress can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. There is a difference between stress and anxiety. Both are emotional responses, but stress is typically caused by an external trigger. Anxiety is the experience of persistent, excessive worries that do not go away even when a stressor is not present. Both mild stress and mild anxiety respond well to similar coping skills. Physical activity, a good diet, and getting enough sleep are good starting points. You can also try to meditate, stretch, or distract yourself with a new hobby.

Consider talking to a mental health professional if your stress or anxiety is affecting your daily life. A mental health professional can help you understand what you are experiencing and provide you with additional coping tools.

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