How to Talk to Your Doctor About Stress

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and at Fitbit, we’re helping you to learn more about mindfulness, stress management, and more through content that focuses on all things mental health. Click here for more blog posts in our Stress Week series. 

What is acute vs. chronic stress?

Each of us experiences stress at one time or another. Managing stress starts with understanding the two primary kinds of stress: acute and chronic.

Acute stress

Acute stress is a short-term reaction to immediate scary, challenging or frustrating circumstances. (Imagine you’re stuck in traffic, which will make you late for work.) Most of us recover quickly from these episodes of occasional stress. Acute stress may cause problems such as tension headaches or a knotted stomach, but most people navigate day-to-day challenges with minimal difficulty.

Chronic stress

With chronic stress, the stressful circumstances continue over a period of time, or recur often. (Imagine the stress of a difficult boss at work.) The persistent stress that results from such triggers can have more serious health implications. Chronic, unmanaged stress can contribute to weight gain, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Stress management

Do what you can to lessen your stress–especially chronic stress. Turn to tried-and-true stress management techniques, including:

Physical activity: Staying active is a healthy way to manage stress. Exercise is a natural mood-lifter.

Mindfulness: Practice being in the moment and find inner calm by focusing on your breathing.

Adequate sleep: 21% of adults report feeling more stressed when they don’t get enough sleep.

Nutrition: Eat a healthy diet to feel better–a key step to fighting stress successfully.

Fitbit’s Stress Management Score can also help you learn how your body responds to stress.

How to have a conversation about stress with your health care provider 

Whether it’s acute or chronic stress, left unmanaged, stress can affect your health. When should you talk to your health care provider about stress? And how do you have that conversation?

When to bring up stress

If dealing with stress has progressed to the point that you’re experiencing health problems–such as digestive issues, headaches, anxiety or depression–then, certainly, bring it up with your health care provider. Likewise, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or trapped, or you find yourself worrying excessively, you should discuss stress management with your health care provider.

Prepare for the conversation

You can help your health care provider help you if you go in prepared. Make notes, preferably in writing, on three subjects:

How is your stress manifesting? Include health issues as well as behaviors. Include both the frequency and severity, especially for high-stress episodes. You might ask a close friend or family member for an objective perspective, too. 

What is stressing you out? Include ongoing, or chronic, stressors as well as acute triggers that you encounter occasionally.

What coping strategies are you trying now? Are you exercising and getting enough sleep? Have you tried mindfulness to cultivate inner calm? Are you resorting to unhealthy ways to manage stress, such as eating too much or substituting caffeine for sufficient sleep?

Armed with the right information, your health care provider will be able to recommend appropriate stress management techniques.

How can your Fitbit data help you have a conversation with your health care provider for mental health/stress?

The more you can tell your health care provider, the better. Data from your smartwatch or tracker can offer additional insight in your health.

Your resting heart rate

If you’re like most adults, your heart rate when you’re at rest falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). If your resting heart rate routinely edges above 100 bpm, be sure to mention it to your health care provider. Anxiety and emotional distress are among the causes for a high resting heart rate. (Other possible causes include caffeine, strenuous exercise, electrical problems in the heart, overactive thyroid and medication side effects.) 

Sleep data

Sufficient, restful sleep is vital for good mental health and stress management. Your smartwatch or tracker can tell you how much sleep you’re getting on average. Experts recommend seven to nine hours a night.

Your wearable device can also tell you about your quality of sleep, as well as your bedtime consistency. (Or lack thereof.) That gives your health care provider another glimpse into your sleep health, and how stress may be denying you the kind of sleep you need.

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