PROMO Health - Wellness Stress Blocks Words Mental Behavioral - iStock - Fokusiert

Unchecked stress levels can lead to health consequences 

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Alex Gonzalez

(Utah News Connection) It is Community Health Improvement Week, and one Utah family care physician wants people to use the time to think about the effects that stress may be having on their mental and physical health. 

Dr. Christopher Valentine, Medical Director for Optum in Utah, said stress in the short term is an important response, a signal to the body that something isn't right. But chronic stress, over time, can affect the heart and manifest itself in other ways - from back pain and digestive issues, to fatigue, depression and trouble sleeping. He says the first step is recognizing the source of the stress.

"We have to identify which are the things that we have control over, and which are the things that we really don't have control over?," he said. "By really defining things into a couple of different buckets, and then looking and saying, 'What are some things where I can take some steps in order to kind of resolve that issue?'"

He added meditation and deep breathing are often underutilized, but can make a big difference. He suggests breathing in, counting to four, holding it for seven seconds, and finally releasing the breath over seven to eight seconds - and repeating that several times - can help "reset" the body under stress.

Valentine explained the human hormonal and nervous systems have not adapted well to modern life. When people deal with uncertainties at work or at home, or even with themselves, he said the body ramps up to fight what it senses is "an existential threat." Over time, this can take a toll on the heart and brain. Valentine added other factors - like diet, exercise and genetics - also come into play, but being able to manage stress is important. And that means cultivating healthy daily habits.

"Speaking from personal experience, the best that I feel and I guess enhancement of my coping mechanisms in being able to deal with stress, is most strongly correlated to sleep and exercise," he continued. 

The American Heart Association has also laid out three simple tips to manage stress. They are online at ''