Dealing With Stress

Have you ever laid awake at night due to a stressor in your life? We all experience stress in our lives, so hear from a few Johns Hopkins experts about what it’s really doing to your body and what you can do to help manage it.

Learn more about stress in the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

How does stress affect the body?

Stress is a normal physiological response that can come in short-term or long-term form. Short-term reactions to stress can cause increased heart rate, decreased appetite and greater alertness, which can help deal with stress in the short term. Stress negatively affects the body when it is exposed to long-term or chronic stress. Serious health conditions that can be caused by long-term stress include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased susceptibility to substance abuse and illness
  • Less resistance to disease
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Weight gain or los
  • Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Won’t work-related stress go away after I retire?

A recent Hopkins Happenings poll surveyed employees about the top factor in their life that causes stress. The results: work, followed by finances and family.

But once someone retires and stops working, the stress may not automatically disappear. Michelle Carlstrom, senior director at the Office of Work, Life and Engagement, says that although many people consider retirement to just be a financial decision, “That alone won’t determine happiness. Even if you feel financially secure, there are other issues to consider.”

Here are a few ways to think about managing stress after retirement.

  • Plan activities with purpose. You may find yourself lacking in social interactions or a sense of purpose once you leave the workplace environment.
  • Consider continued work as a volunteer, part-time employee or small-business owner. Plan ahead and look for opportunities rather than waiting until retirement to figure it out.
  • Ground yourself in reality by taking a hard look at the things that cause you stress. Are they real, imagined, or anticipatory stressors? Determine whether you are worrying about the unknown future, or if your stressor currently exists, and develop a stress management plan to instill a sense of control over the situation.
  • Adjust your stress management style and focus on healthier options to manage your stress.

What are quick, easy ways to handle a stressful situation?

Managing stress does not have to costly, time-consuming or difficult. Here are a few simple, effective ways to handle stress, according to Hugh Calkins, director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins.

Opt for a long walk over a long nap. Exercise is a great way to elevate your mood, plus it has the added benefit of burning calories and keeping you healthy. Stash a pair of comfortable walking shoes in your car or office to get outside for a quick 20-minute walk.

If you don’t have somewhere to walk, find a place where you can take a short break and escape into your surroundings. Spend a few quiet minutes alone, read a short story or article, or listen to music. Make a list of what you’re grateful for to help maintain a positive mindset.

Grab a healthy snack, like nuts, which contain tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein that improves depression and promotes relaxation.

Think positive thoughts. Talking to yourself in a negative light won’t help address stressors. Try reframing negative thoughts into positive ones to turn your stress reaction around. For example, instead of thinking “This is awful” or “This is such a mess,” think “This is rough, but I can get help” or “Things could be worse.”

Try relaxation strategies proven to help reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing. You can practice these techniques on your own at home. Yoga is proven to have many health benefits in addition to reducing stress, including back pain relief, more energy and brighter moods, heart help and better joint health.

What are other ways to reduce or manage stress?

  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. A nutritious and well-balanced diet, combined with regular exercise, helps keep your body fit and able to resist disease.
  • Talk about stressful situations with someone you trust. Talking through your problems and concerns can put them into perspective and give you insight about how to deal with them effectively.
  • Stay organized, which will help manage your time more effectively.
  • Nobody can do it alone! Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
  • Practice relaxation techniques to calm your mind and your body. You can enroll in mind relaxation, meditation or yoga classes to get started.
  • Get professional help if you need it.


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