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In The News

Laurie Chappell, St. Luke's Hospital

Stress: Its effects and how to manage it

Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you may not realize it. You may think that nagging headache, frequent insomnia, chest pain and forgetfulness are due to a physical illness when the primary source may be stress.

Studies by the American Heart Association have shown that 75 percent of physician office visits are stress-related. Several of the leading causes of death in our country - including heart disease, some cancers and lung disorders - are linked to stress.

We all have some stress in our lives, and it is not all bad. Acute stress is something you experience with a quick resolution or is self-limiting and usually benign. But if your stress becomes chronic, it is time to take action.

Stress can affect us physically, as well as affect how we think, feel or behave. We may experience back pain, heart palpitations, digestive problems, decreased immunity and see a rise in our blood pressure. We may also become more irritable, insecure and anxious. Stress can cause us to eat more or skip meals, withdraw socially, exercise less and have problems in our relationships.

Chronic stress can affect women who are pregnant. For instance, stress can lead to a stillbirth. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there is one stillbirth for every 167 live births in the U.S. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded there is a link between stressful events during pregnancy and stillbirth. The lead author of the study says that dealing with stressors in a healthy way while pregnant could lead to the birth of more healthy babies.

Identifying our stressors is a great starting point. Some common causes for chronic stress include divorce, illness, death of a loved one, job loss, moving, a new baby, financial constraints, our families and the perceived lack of time.

There are many strategies that can help decrease our stressors. Relaxation breathing, physical exercise, yoga, massage therapy and journaling are some effective tools. Social support from family and friends, humor and reframing the situation are other powerful techniques. These techniques have been proven to lower blood pressure, improve sleep, prevent illness and increase quality of life.

Laurie Chappell, RN, MSN, is a Certified Holistic Stress Management Instructor for St. Luke's Hospital. To register for a stress management program on June 8, 2013, visit the Wellness Programs and Screenings page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 16, 2013.