IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Health Matters: Is stress making you sick?

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, NBC News’ health editor lays out the best tips to manage stress.
NBC News health editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.
NBC News health editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.Miller Hawkins

Stress is part of our everyday lives and impacts both our mind and body. In fact, a Gallup poll released just last week found Americans are the most stressed people in the world! Most adults — 55 percent — said they experience stress during “a lot of the day,” compared with 35 percent globally.

Long-term stress is particularly damaging to our health. It can cause the heart and lungs to work overtime, interfere with sleep, promote overeating and boost anxiety. And while there are many different reasons you may feel stressed, you don’t have to accept it as just “the way it is.”

Instead of worrying about what we can’t do about stress, it’s time to start thinking about effective ways to manage and limit it. And remember, admitting you need to reduce the stress is your life is a sign of strength not weakness.

You can manage your stress levels with mental focus and mindfulness. Get started with this three-step plan:

1. Identify the source of your stress

Divide your stressors into two types: those in and out of your control. For stressors under your control, identify them and think of ways to simplify your daily schedule. Think about ways friends and family members can help de-clutter your day. A simplified environment supports better stress management. Set realistic – not heroic – daily goals.

It’s tougher to deal with stressors out of your control. It’s important to first accept and adapt to these factors and learn to live with situations you cannot change. It’s a shift in your core thinking that is learned over time to help adjust your response to stress.

RELATED: Stress and anxiety: Mika's massive reset

2. Change your response to stress

Downsize your response to stress and learn to stay in better control and not “lose it.” You can only change your own behavior, so start by taking a deep breath and a step back from a stressful situation. A calmer mental response to stress lowers the physical response to stress – and that’s a health plus.

3. Reach out for help and support when you need it

Dealing with stress and making changes isn’t easy and there’s help if you need it. Start with talking to a supportive friend or relative, or looking at medically-focused websites including, WebMD and Mayo Clinic. Apps like Headspace or Calm are often helpful. And don't hesitate to check in with your doctor if you need more support.

Make the active choice to address your stress – your health depends on it.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.