Clinical Psychology Associates

Healthy Ways to Handle Life’s stressors

When stress becomes unmanageable, try these evidence-based tools to tackle it in healthy ways.

Stressful experiences are a normal part of life, and the stress response is a survival mechanism that primes us to respond to threats. Some stress is positive: Imagine standing in front of a crowd to give a speech and hitting it out of the park. Stressful? Certainly. But also challenging and satisfying.
But when a stressor is negative and can’t be fought off or avoided — such as layoffs at work or a loved one’s medical crisis — or when the experience of stress becomes chronic, our biological responses to stress can impair our physical and mental health.
Fortunately, there are many evidence-based tools to help combat the negative effects of stress in healthy ways. They recommend that you:

Acute versus chronic stressThe experience of stress can be either acute or chronic. Acute stress usually occurs in response to a short-term stressor, like a car accident or an argument with your spouse. Acute stress can be very distressing, but it passes quickly and typically responds well to coping techniques like calming breathing or brisk physical activity.
Chronic stress occurs when stressors don’t let up. The roots of chronic stress can vary widely, from situations people can control or avoid (such as having a toxic friendship) to difficulties that are hard to escape (poverty, racism or other discrimination). Because people respond differently to stressful circumstances, a situation that one person might find tolerable can become a source of chronic stress for another.
Chronic stress can damage both mental and physical health. Being chronically stressed may leave you feeling fatigued, sap your ability to concentrate and cause headaches and digestive difficulties. People prone to irritable bowel syndrome often find that their symptoms spike with psychological stress.15 Though acute stress can heighten certain immune responses, the wear-and-tear of chronic stress is bad for the immune system.16 Chronic stress can also affect cardiac health, with multiple studies finding a link between chronic stress and the development of coronary artery disease.17

The American Psychological Association gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Beverly Thorn, PhD, in developing this fact sheet.
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