Did you know that almost three-quarters of Americans suffer from stress in any given month? For some, it becomes chronic, and when that happens, related health problems can emerge or get a lot worse. It’s important for nurses to be familiar with them because patients don’t often realize the underlying connection, and reducing stress can do a lot to prevent physical decline.
Depression and anxiety
Common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are often related to stress, which can damage a person’s confidence and sense of self-worth. Counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help, with different individuals needing different approaches. Some people only recover with the help of medication, but simply reducing day-to-day pressure increases the chances of spontaneous improvement.
Stress can exacerbate all kinds of gastrointestinal problems, from nausea and upset stomachs to irritable bowel syndrome. It’s even associated with a risk of food sensitivities worsening to the point where patients develop serious allergy symptoms. Because illnesses such as this can cause stress, a problematic feedback loop can develop. Simple dietary advice and reassurance, plus practical advice about sanitary aids, can help to break the cycle.
Issues with sleeping often crop up in hospital settings, though you may also find that you encounter them in community work, as patients sometimes think they’re not serious enough to bother doctors with. As accelerated nursing programs will teach you, however, poor-quality sleep is associated with serious disease risks, so take the time to discuss possible causes (including stress) and treatments, referring to a doctor if necessary.
Although the causes of asthma are complex, acute stress can often precipitate an attack, potentially putting a patient in danger. Nurses are often the best-placed people to talk patients through basic stress management techniques and help them to feel confident about how they treat asthma attacks so that those don’t become a source of stress in themselves. This should take into account additional health issues and, if possible, make room for safe exercise.
Acute stress can cause tachycardia, while there’s some evidence that chronic stress contributes to a thickening of the arterial walls. In any case, where a patient has cardiovascular illness or is considered to be at increased risk from stroke, reducing stress is a practical way to work towards improved health. Doctors will often provide advice on the safest ways to exercise, but it’s often the job of a suitably trained or experienced nurse to help turn this into action and make it fit into a patient’s lifestyle.
Often, patients seek out medical help for other reasons without realizing that they’re suffering from stress. Nurses who know how to identify the symptoms can provide sympathetic support that many patients are more willing to listen to than advice from a doctor. Men, in particular, often mistakenly think of stress as weakness and are less likely to worry about losing face with a nurse. Help them reduce stress and you could spare them serious long-term health problems.