LINCOLN — Stress is everywhere these days — but it’s toxic for your health, both mental and physical.

“In today’s world, it’s natural to feel stress — but it can be harmful to your health in the long run,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, in a press release. “Investing in your own mental health by practicing self-care is critical, because there is no health without mental health.”

When are you most likely to experience toxic stress?

» Not getting enough sleep.

» Not having a network of support.

» Experiencing a major life change such as moving, the death of a loved one, starting a new job, having a child or getting married.

» Experiencing poor physical health.

» Not eating well.

Symptoms may include:

» Rapid heart rate.

» Palpitations.

» Inability to relax.

» Difficulty maintaining emotional balance.

» Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

» Stomach discomfort.

» Headaches.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers valuable tips for dealing with stress:

» Manage your time. Prioritizing your activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines.

» Practice relaxation. Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.

» Exercise daily. Schedule time to walk outside, bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.

» Set aside time for yourself. Schedule something that makes you feel good. It might be reading a book, going to the movies, getting a massage or taking your dog for a walk.

» Eat well. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruit, is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.

» Get enough sleep. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep.

» Avoid alcohol and drugs. They don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.

» Talk to someone. Whether to friends, family, a counselor or a support group, airing out and talking can help.

Need someone to talk to? The Nebraska Family Helpline, 888-866-8660, is supervised by licensed mental health professionals who can help callers connect to services. Visiting the Network of Care website, portal networkofcare.org/sites/nebraska, can also help Nebraskans access services. Other valuable numbers to keep on hand are the Rural Response Hotline, 800-464-0258, and the Nebraska Family Helpline, 888-866-8660.

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