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Stress: How Are You Handling it?

How have you been feeling lately? Have you had a tough time sleeping at night, or are you over/under eating, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities or getting sick with a cold or flu often? You likely are experiencing significant stress.

What is Stress and What Causes it?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines stress as how the brain and body respond to any challenging demand that makes you feel threatened or anxious. The situations and events that cause stress are called “stressors.” They can be positive (for example, preparing for a wedding or a new baby) or negative (for example, preparing for a natural disaster or dealing with a disease). According to the CDC, symptoms may by physical or emotional. Common reactions to a stressful event can include:

  • Disbelief, shock or numbness
  • Feeling sad, frustrated or helpless
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Headaches, back pains and stomach problems
  • Smoking or use of drugs or alcohol.

How Does Stress Affect the Body?

The body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart rate and breathing rate, and ready your muscles to respond. According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), if your stress response does not stop firing and those levels stay elevated for longer than necessary for survival, it can affect your health and well-being.

Chronic stress can impact areas such as the central nervous system, respiratory and cardiovascular system, digestive system, muscular system, immune system and reproductive system negatively. These are some examples of how chronic stress can impact our body systems:

  • Central nervous system: Overeating, undereating, social withdrawal, substance abuse
  • Respiratory/cardiovascular system: Difficulty breathing, stroke, heart attack
  • Digestive system: Heartburn, acid reflux, risk for ulcers, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or upset stomach
  • Muscular system: Headaches, back and shoulder pain, muscle aches
  • Immune system: Can weaken and make you more susceptible to viral illnesses such as the flu or common cold

How to Cope With Stress

Although everyone, including adults, teens and even children, experiences stress in different ways, we all can use similar tactics to cope. The CDC and NIMH list methods we all can use to help manage stress. Here are a few helpful tips.

Be observant. Recognize the signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol use or substance abuse, being easily agitated, feeling depressed or having low energy.

Take care of yourself.

  • Eat healthful, well-balanced meals.
  • Engage in physical activity on a regular basis for at least 30 minutes daily.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Give yourself a break.
  • Try a relaxing activity.
  • Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may include meditation, muscle relaxation or breathing exercises. Many are online.
  • Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor or pastor.
  • Set goals and priorities.
  • Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you still have to do.
  • Take a break. If news events are causing your stress, take a break from watching or listening to the news.
  • Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about harming yourself, talk to a psychologist, social worker or professional counselor.


Written by Alexandra Lee, NDSU Extension dietetic intern; reviewed by Julie Garden-Robinson, food and nutrition specialist




5 Things You Should Know About Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2020, from

Stress Effects. (Dec. 30, 2019). Retrieved from

Tips for Coping with Stress|Publications|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. (Sept. 3, 2019). Retrieved from

Filed under: fca newsletter, stress

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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