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Why You Need to Care About Stress—and How to Start Managing It Now

Why You Need to Care About Stress—and How to Start Managing It Now

Control your stress—and protect your health—by downloading Sharecare.

Whether you’re stuck in traffic, worried about money or just had an argument with your partner, stress is a part of our daily lives. Bigger stressors could include losing a loved one, going through a divorce, and safety concerns in an increasingly uncertain world. Even happy events, like buying a house or getting a promotion, can be stressful.

No matter the cause, when faced with stressful situations, the body shifts its focus to release cortisol and adrenaline—the stress hormones—to fend off the perceived threat or attack, triggering the “fight or flight” response. For our ancestors, the quickened heart rate and bolt of energy is what kept them alive when faced with predators and other threats.

How stress makes you sick 
The trouble today is that while we don’t need to fend off wild animals, our bodies can’t tell the difference between the danger of a car running a red light as we cross the street and the stress of juggling three kids and a full-time job. Our bodies stay stuck in the “on” position of constant, chronic stress. 

According to a 2015 American Psychological Association (APA) survey, money and work remain Americans’ top two stressors, followed by family responsibilities. In addition:

  • 67% reported having at least one chronic illness
  • 16% have a depression diagnosis
  • 39% said they overate or ate unhealthy foods in the previous month due to stress
  • Nearly a third said that stress has a strong or very strong impact on their mind, body and health.

Just one year later, in 2016, the APA survey found that Americans’ overall stress levels shot up even more thanks, in part, to the political climate, along with concerns about personal safety. Social media use and constantly checking electronic devices was another reported source of anxiety.

But unchecked stress can lead to a host of mental and physical problems, including a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and heart disease, cancer and digestive issues. It may also cause people to adopt unhealthy behaviors like overeating, smoking and alcohol abuse as a means of coping. 

Identify your stress levels
Developing awareness of how stressed you truly are can help you to start to manage it. Sharecare, available for Android and iOS, features a stress tracker. It's a quick, easy way to follow your stress levels from day to day and spot trends. Here’s how it works.

For Android users:

  • Generate a stress analysis by making a phone call that lasts at least 30 seconds. Sharecare will analyze your voice and generate a response, detailing how stressed you are (or aren’t). The app does not listen to your calls—it just listens to the stress fractals in your voice.
     
  • You can track stress manually via the desktop Tracker.

For iOS users:

  • Activate your phone’s microphone and speak for at least 30 seconds to generate a voice analysis. Sharecare will analyze your voice and generate a response, detailing how stressed you are (or aren’t). The app does not listen to your calls—it just listens to the stress fractals in your voice.
     
  • You can track stress manually by sliding the scale to your perceived stress level or manually via the desktop Tracker.

For desktop users:

  • If you don’t have a mobile device, stress can be tracked manually via the desktop Tracker.

How tracking helps your health
One way the app improves your health is that it can help you identify what’s stressing you out. Keep notes about what you were doing, what you were thinking or what was happening each time you use Sharecare. Were you just handed a work assignment with a short deadline? Did you just have an unpleasant call with a friend? Understanding what pushes your stress buttons can help you come up with a plan for dealing with them.  

Dial down the stress
Here are simple things you can do to get stress under control:

  • Exercise. One of the best things you can do to boost overall health and destress is to exercise on a regular basis. Cardio workouts, such as walking at a fast pace, jogging, swimming or using an elliptical are all great ways to blow off steam.
  • Get enough sleep. It’s difficult to deal with each day’s challenges if you’re exhausted. Practice good sleep hygiene habits to rest your mind and destress.
  • Focus on a healthy diet. Adrenaline temporarily suppresses the appetite, but if you remain stressed, the hormone cortisol, which fuels appetite, is released. Stress can also fuel cravings for high-fat, sugary foods.
  • Take care of the little stuff.  Tackle the To Dos lingering in the back of your mind, whether it’s calling your health insurer to clear up a question about a claim or getting your car serviced. That alone can take some stressful weight off your shoulders.
  • Taper off of social media. Make a conscious decision to check your Facebook page only once or twice a day; limit updates to fight the urge to see how many comments or Likes you got. Try taking a break for a few days—you may discover things you enjoy doing outside of the virtual world!
  • Slow down. Meditation, deep breathing and yoga are all proven ways to relax and let go of stress. 
  • Nurture relationships. Close friends and family members can act as stress buffers when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You may find practical assistance by opening up to the people who care about you; they may also be able to offer a fresh perspective on the situation. 
  • Seek help. If your anxiety level continues to register at the high end of the stress app, talk to a therapist or other mental health professional for help in identifying and handling your stressors.
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