Stress, Coping, and Health Psychology

Health Behaviors

Behaviors such as smoking, excessive use of drugs and alcohol, and unhealthy eating can exacerbate stress and impair health. Exercise, seeking treatment, communicating well with providers, and following treatment plans can help alleviate stress and promote health.

When stressed, some people turn to behaviors such as smoking, using drugs or alcohol, and unhealthy eating. All these behaviors are an attempt to reduce the negative emotions associated with stress. Unfortunately, in the long term, each of these behaviors also leads to harmful physical and psychological outcomes. Overall, they reduce a person's well-being and can even increase the factors that lead to stress in the first place. For example, use of alcohol to dampen emotions can lead to depressed mood and social isolation even when not drinking. Unhealthy eating can lead to weight gain or fatigue and reduce the body's ability to fight disease.

There are a number of health behaviors that have a positive effect on overall well-being. Regular physical exercise reduces the level of corticosteroids in the bloodstream. This, in turn, can improve mood and physical functioning. Discussing issues with a health care provider can also ensure a person has the support and resources they need to manage stress effectively (e.g., diet or exercise advice or medication to control a medical condition, such as anxiety). Additionally, positive appraisal of stress has been shown to reduce the negative physical effects of stress. In other words, simply reinterpreting stress as beneficial may affect the way it influences the bodily response to stress (for example, rather than being distressed about losing a job, one could focus on the opportunity to pursue another highly desired career path). Other practices shown to help prevent or alleviate stress and its effects are meditation, spiritual practices, and spending time on hobbies and other enjoyable activities.

Health Behaviors and Heart Disease

Health behaviors and stress can influence risk for cardiovascular disease. Smoking, obesity, uncontrolled high blood pressure, stress, and distress increase risk for heart attack. Eating fruits and vegetables daily and getting regular exercise decrease risk.