World events, like the Orlando mass shooting, can be overwhelmingly stressful even if you're nowhere near the crime scene. When images of death and heartbreak fill your screens, they can also fill your heart with dread and worry.
"Dealing with stress after such a heartbreaking event like this is difficult because you're experiencing so many emotions, like shock and grief and numbness. Extreme sadness," life coach Susie Moore told TODAY's Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on Tuesday.
"There's no answer or solution because everyone reacts so differently."
There are stresses we can't control; then, there are difficult life events we know we'll have to get through.
Whether you’re stressing over financial woes or a romantic relationship on the rocks, the anxiety can wreak havoc on your body if you can’t get it under control. For some, stress throws the digestive system out of whack resulting in bloating and diarrhea or constipation, for others, muscle tension can lead to sore backs and necks as well as throbbing heads.
Each age group has its own common stressors. Here's Moore's advice on how to relax at every life stage:
People in their 20s are the most stressed out generation of our time, Moore said. They're graduating from college, worrying about college debts, looking for a job, dating and dealing with the constant social media comparisons.
Solution: Try mindful meditation.
People in this age group are managing a lot of extra responsibilities both at work and at home, as they climb their way up the career ladder and become parents and home owners.
Solution: Make time with friends a priority. You may be skipping socializing unintentionally as responsibilities pile up, but spending time with good friends lowers the stress hormone cortisol.
People in their 40s are the "sandwich generation" — they worry about their growing kids and their aging parents. They also have to start thinking about their own health and fitness differently.
Solution: Make laughter a really big priority. The average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day, while the average 40-year-old laughs only four times a day, Moore said. Don't forget to have fun and maintain a sense of wonder about life.
Planning for retirement and watching your kids move out of the house at this stage of life can be jolting.
Solution: Take up yoga, which boosts endorphins and lowers blood pressure. The practice improves your overall well-being, Moore said.
A little stress can actually be a good thing, motivating us to work hard and get ahead, experts say. But constant stress and worry over the long haul can damage our bodies.
“The stress response was made for short-term acute stress, like needing to run away from a bear or a saber tooth tiger,” said David Victorson, an associate professor of medical social sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a health psychologist at Northwestern Medicine. “It’s been a part of the human process since the beginning. But stressors today can be much more chronic and we’re ill equipped to deal with that."
Whether we’re anxious because a tiger is around the corner or a pile of bills just dropped into the mailbox, our body's reaction is the same. The fight or flight response is kicked off, which sparks the release of stress hormones that lead to the following:
Blood pressure rises
Heart rate speeds up
Blood sugar levels surge
Muscles tense to deal with the threat
That’s no problem if the threat is immanent and passes quickly. But if the threat is longer term, then it can set our digestive systems roiling and our heads throbbing.
In the GI tract:
Stress can lead to changes in bacteria in the gut, said Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic and co-author of “This Is Your Do-Over: The 7 Secrets to Losing Weight, Living Longer, and Getting a Second Chance at the Life You Want.” And that will change the way you digest food.
Making matters worse, stress can change the way the muscles lining your intestine contract. And that, Roizen says, can lead to either diarrhea or constipation.
On top of that, stress can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
Other body parts:
Tense muscles can leave you with an achy back and neck.
The more we clench, the more likely it is that we’ll develop a tension headache.
The high levels of stress hormones can sap your energy, leaving you constantly fatigued.
How to lower stress:
First, stop ignoring the source of the stress and fix the problems that can be fixed, said Roizen. If you’re stressed because you never have enough money at the end of the month, “you need to realize you can’t keep going on living beyond your mean." If you’re stressed because you aren’t getting enough done, stop procrastinating.
Learn to meditate. Even if you do it for a few minutes a day, that can significantly lower stress, said Dr. Natalia Morone, a mind-body expert and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. “We did a study in older adults with low back pain that showed mindful meditation for just 10 minutes a day decreased pain,” she said.
- Develop a healthier lifestyle. “Exercise, eating healthy and getting enough sleep are three things we all seem to cheat on,” Morone says. “If you’re cheating every day, though, it will catch up with you.”
Sign up for volunteer work. “When you’re helping others it really does help reduce your stress,” Morone says.
Find an activity that completely absorbs you. If you discover something you love and can get completely involved in it, there’s no doubt it will reduce your stress, Morone says.
A. Pawlowski contributed to this report.