COVID-19 has changed a lot in our lives.

People are afraid of getting sick or making others sick. Many are worried about their jobs, paying bills or daily routine. Others suffer from being isolated and feeling disconnected. Not to mention, the anxiety of wearing a mask, even though it protects you and others.

As the COVID-19 situation changes, so do the stressors that come along with it. Unfortunately, stress is a silent health issue you may be ignoring.

Stress touches every life. It can threaten your health. How you cope with it is important.

Not all stress is bad. However, you can prevent its negative affects by knowing how to monitor it and when to ask for help.

Lightbulb on chalk board with wheel and spoke circles around it for brainstorm session

How stress works

There are healthy ways to cope with stress. It helps to understand how stress works.

Stress is your body’s answer to an outside force. Your brain and body react to tough situations by releasing hormones. This sparks your “flight or fight” response, and you may feel on-edge until you find a way to calm down.

pieces of brain model scattered on table showing inside of right lobe of brain, nerve with dendrites and axion and middle brain pieces

Physical effects of stress

Stress can damage your body, especially if you’ve been feeling it for a long time. When you are stressed, your muscles get tense. This can trigger headaches and migraines or sore muscles and pain.

It can also change your breathing. You may have rapid breathing or shortness of breath when hit with a sudden stressor. If you have COPD, chronic bronchitis or other pre-existing respiratory issues, it can make things even worse.

Stress can also upset digestion, causing stomachaches, heartburn or bloating. All of these can make you uncomfortable and affect your mood. Too much stress can also sex drive, make it more difficult to have children and alter a woman’s menstruation cycle.

Long-term stress is also bad for your heart. It can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke. It’s also possible that stress can increase your cholesterol levels. The effects of stress on your heart vary from person to person, as does the type of stress and how it impacts heart health.

white boy in blue hoodie with hands on face and fingers in eyes looking stressed

Mental effects of stress

Stress can impact your mental health as well. You might start to notice mood swings or a mix of feelings such as anxiety, anger or fear. It can even lead to or worsen depression.

Stress can change how you act. You may feel like turning to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or overusing a prescription medication instead of getting help.

Previous life trauma and failing to deal with stress can increase your risk of suicide. If you or a loved one struggle with isolation or feeling alone, it’s important to check in with family and friends often. If you see any warning signs of suicide, seek help.

White woman in black jacket with hand on forhead, leaning over rail wearing mask

How to cope with stress

Here are ways to deal with stress during COVID-19:

Close up of woman wearing jean jacket with hands folded in lap sitting next to another person with hands folded in lap with black shirt

Where to seek help

If stress is taking over your life, you might need help. Don’t be scared or ashamed, everyone struggles with stress. Call your doctor or use one of these options for help:

Newton Medical Center is here for you. Your health is our focus.