Stress is the brain’s response to demands for change. Not only is stress unavoidable, it can also lead to life-saving actions (such as running away from dangerous situations). Chronic stress (stress that doesn’t go away), however, could seriously affect your physical and mental health.
Physical changes caused by stress
When you experience stress, it triggers the release of nerve chemicals and hormones. This leads to physical changes, including the following:
- Quickened pulse
- Faster breathing
- Tenser muscles
- An immune system boost
Stress-related health problems
Problems arise when your body keeps pumping out these stress chemicals and hormones. This can affect your immune system, digestive system, and reproductive system and can lead to the following:
- Recurring or resistant viral infections, such as the flu and common cold
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Painful sex
- Stress can exacerbate other conditions such as chronic pain and migraines.
Types of stress
There are different kinds of stress, which can pose threats to your physical and mental health:
- Everyday stress related to the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities
- Stress caused by sudden negative change, such as divorce or losing a job
- Traumatic stress, which can be brought about by an event such as war, a major accident or natural disaster
Stress symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased alcohol and other substance use
- Easily angered
- Feeling depressed
- Low energy
How can I get help for stress?
How you get help depends on your level of stress. If you are experiencing the following, talk to your primary care doctor or seek help from a mental health professional immediately:
- Feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope
- Using alcohol or drugs to decompress
- Having suicidal thoughts
These doctors can help you address other symptoms of stress as well (e.g., difficulty sleeping, low energy). If you seek help from your primary doctor first, he or she may refer you to other specialists depending on your symptoms.
Care for people with stress at Rush
Your treatment for stress at Rush will depend on several issues:
- The type of stress (is it traumatic or everyday stress?)
- Your level of stress (is it affecting you daily?)
- The source of your stress (does stress arise from your work? from your marriage?)
- How you are coping with stress (are you drinking or taking drugs?)
Primary care doctors at Rush can help you sort through these issues to determine what treatment approach and specialist suits your needs best. In some instances, effective treatment requires a combination of strategies.
Specialists at Rush (including psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers) offer a variety of treatments and services to address the unique needs of people affected by stress. Here are some examples:
- Individual psychotherapy
- Marriage and family therapy
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy, which focuses on your ability to pay attention to what is happening in your life in a nonreactive way
- Social work support
- Exercise programs
- Relaxation strategies, such as yoga and meditation
- Medication management
- Treatments to address the physical problems that often accompany stress, including heart care, diabetes care and treatment for sexual problems
Why choose Rush for stress care?
- The Rush University Prevention Center promotes wellness and stress reduction by helping you incorporate fitness and healthy eating into your daily life. The center offers a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, which teaches how to cope with stress and manage chronic medical problems and pain.
- Psychologists and psychiatrists at Rush play a valuable role in the assessment and treatment of stress.
- The Traumatic Stress Center (part of the Department of Behavioral Sciences) at Rush offers a multidisciplinary approach to restoring full functioning and control to individuals with stress disorders. Here you will find experts in disaster trauma as well as trauma in women, the military and first responders.
- Complementary, integrative therapies — such as yoga and massage therapy — are offered through the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at Rush. These therapies have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety as well as ease muscle tension.
- Stress can affect a woman’s sexual health. The Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health at Rush brings together multiple specialists who have expertise in addressing complex health concerns, such as painful sex.