Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. (Courtesy photo)

With many families struggling to make ends meet due to higher food prices, the cost of gasoline and an uncertain job market, people are feeling overburdened and stressed, not knowing what the future may hold.

National Stress Awareness Week began Nov. 7 to raise awareness about good mental health practices and behaviors. It’s important not to sweep symptoms under the rug so that you can identify potential treatments and better understand the root cause of stress.

According to Dr. Ashley Zucker, an adult, adolescent and child psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.

“Stress in and of itself is not a medical or mental health condition, but it can lead to medical and mental health conditions and concerns,” Dr. Zucker said. “Stress can be caused by almost anything that impacts your daily life, including work and relationships. Even positive events such as having a baby or getting married can be stressful.”

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Dr. Zucker noted the signs of stress encompass a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, stomach problems, muscle tension, irritability, increased worrying, making mistakes, sleeping problems and more.

“Stress is your body’s reaction to helping you deal with pressure,” she explained. “A small amount can actually be helpful and can improve your performance and awareness, but too much can cause negative effects. When we are stressed, we are technically turning on our fight or flight response, and our bodies start to release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.”

Typically when the stressor goes away, these hormones drop back to normal levels, Dr. Zucker explained. If stress lasts for a long time, it can impact our mood or worsen our existing mental health issues. When stressed, we may also resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, drinking alcohol or abusing drugs, which will negatively affect our health.

Dr. Zucker noted stress has been linked to many physical conditions such as heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, increased blood sugar level, a weaker immune system, stomach ulcers and more. That’s why seeking treatment may sometimes be necessary.

“It’s important to manage your stress when it’s too high or going on for a long period of time,” Dr. Zucker emphasized. “Things that you can do on your own to help lower your stress level include exercising, relaxation techniques, spending time with friends and family, setting aside time for hobbies or activities you enjoy, as well as getting plenty of sleep and eating well.”

Dr. Zucker noted that practicing good strategies to reduce your stress level can improve your mental and physical health overall and prevent more serious health conditions later on.

Kaiser Permanente offers important information on how you can better cope with stress.