Common symptoms of stress, particularly prolonged stress, are depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, anger, reactivity and impulsivity. Stress can affect appetite, energy levels and motivation. It can alter one's perceptions, thoughts, insight and judgment. People who are stressed out just don't think as clearly, they're out of balance, they're disconnected from their higher, intuitive self and they are more vulnerable to a variety of illnesses, both physical and emotional.
Stress, in general, weakens the immune system and diminishes the body's ability to fend off illness and infection, making it more difficult for the body to repair and heal. Prolonged stress, with its dampening of the immune system, can generate headaches, muscle aches, neck- and backaches, constipation, diarrhea, gastro-esophogeal reflux, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.
Stress increases one's odds of having an accident, because stressed-out people are more easily distracted and not paying attention as well as they could, such that an accident may happen that otherwise might have been avoided. If one does suffer bodily injuring secondary to an accident, a person who is stressed has a diminished capacity to heal and recover from it. When one's mind and body are in good condition, the odds of recovering from a serious injury are much greater.
Last, but not least, it is possible that prolonged stress weakens the immune system to such a degree that one becomes more vulnerable to tumors and cancers.
So what can be done about it?
Ideally, find ways to reduce the stress and eliminate it, if possible. Reducing the stress means recognizing what's causing the stress, whether it be an exhausting or toxic job, financial insecurity, health problems or relationship problems. Whatever might be causing the stress needs to be fully acknowledged.
The next step involves addressing these specific causes of stress, perhaps by making new decisions, or perhaps by taking new actions if there are indeed viable options. If one makes better choices, it's possible to reduce, if not eliminate, the stressful triggers in one's life.
Sometimes one can't reduce or eliminate the stress. Some things are out of our control no matter what choices and decisions we make. In this case, reducing stress means reducing your reaction to stress, which means finding ways to accept the difficult situation and coexist with it rather than having a physical or nervous breakdown over it.
In conjunction with trying to "change the things you can" and "accept the things you cannot change," there are other ways to manage and cope with stress. Good nutrition is important, which includes eating balanced meals, staying as far away from fast food and junk food as possible and keeping the sugar and fat choices to a minimum.
Exercising and working out can help dramatically. Getting enough sleep is very important as well. Other helpful treatments of stress include meditation, yoga, talk therapy and spiritual or religious counseling.
Vitamin and mineral supplements may help. Sometimes medications can help people deal with their stress. Sometimes medications are critical, hopefully for just a brief period of time, in order to avoid a total meltdown.
When people are stressed, they should avoid watching intense TV shows and movies. They should stay away from the horror, gore and violence. They should watch comedies as much as possible. Laughter is healing. It generates endorphins, which make people feel good.
Additionally, people should limit the amount of time they spend watching news (which is mostly about negativity and violence in the world) and listening to angry talk shows (which promote fear and rage). It's nice to want to be informed, but indulging in excessive viewing and listening of the same stressful information over and over again is not helpful.
When one is under stress, it's best to try to "think lovely thoughts." Think positive. Think hopeful, not pessimistic. See the glass as half-full, not half-empty. Make the decision to make lemonade out of lemons. Be grateful for what you've got, despite whatever scarcity, limitation, lack or disappointment is in your life.
Try to see the silver lining in the dark clouds. Try to see the difficulties in your life as somehow blessings in disguise. Try to release judgment and attack thoughts despite what has happened to you. Try to forgive.
In stressful times, people and societies can lose their balance, their sense of purpose and intention. This is why, over the long run, it is critical, amidst the stress, fear and chaos, that we maintain as best we can our integrity, our compassion and our humanity.