Blame it on the smartphones that are constantly pinging us with texts, tweets, and emails. Blame it on the overcrowded trains, freeways, and big-box stores. Blame it on the Great Recession, global warming, Netflix, or that $6 latte in your hand. 

Whatever you want to pin it on, there’s a troubling fact about us modern humans: We’re super-frazzled. According to a 2017 evaluation of federal health data, more Americans than ever before are stressed, depressed, and anxiety-ridden, and many are unable to get the help they need.

This, of course, leads to lots of bad stuff. Common effects of stress include headaches, muscle tension, lowered sex drive, insomnia, irritability, sadness, lack of motivation, social withdrawal, overeating, and drug and alcohol abuse. As if that’s not terrible enough, chronic stress also increases your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, and many researchers believe it makes the brain more susceptible to health problems like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Other studies show that it flat-out ages you faster and kills you sooner.

The bottom line: If you’re constantly freaking out about things, you’re not going to look or feel very good. But don’t stress. We’re here to help, and we’ve called in reinforcements in the form of physicians, psychologists, and therapists. Taken together, this guide should equip you with the tools to stay calm under pressure—so you can get back to crushing life. 

Stress FAQs: A quick primer on the science of stress.

What is stress?

It’s a feeling of pressure, strain, or tension. Essentially, it’s psychological pain.  

That sounds bad. Is stress always bad? 

No. Small amounts of stress motivate us, help us adapt to our environment, and even improve athletic performance. Also, stress is what got us this far: When our ancestors perceived a threat (like a grizzly bear), they reacted with the “fight or flight” response. Their bodies were flooded with a hormone called cortisol, which released glucose into the bloodstream, giving them the energy to either battle the threat or sprint away from it. Without stress, our ancestors would’ve been eaten, and you wouldn’t be alive.

So small amounts of stress help us get stuff done? 

Yes.

What’s the problem with stress, then?

Too much stress, or chronic stress, is what you want to avoid. Because while it’s nice to have your cortisol levels elevate occasionally, when there’s too much in your body for too long, it can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, muscle loss, depression, and even brain shrinkage and memory problems. Chronic stress also weakens your immune system, obliterates your sex drive, and negatively affects your skin, hair, and teeth.

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