Stress Management Series – Part 1
With today’s busy lifestyles and demanding schedules, stress seems inevitable. And there is growing concern about adverse health effects from long-term stress. So it’s not surprising that more and more people are looking for ways to reduce as much stress as possible and better manage it as it occurs.
In this multi-part series, we’ll explore what stress is, how it affects our bodies, typical ways people cope with stress, and tips for reducing and managing stress.
What Stress Is
Feeling stressed is an ancient biochemical process that has served us well over the millennia. It’s a way of quickly putting our body on high alert. It is designed to get us ready for physical activity like running away, or fighting.
This has worked well in the distant past, but outside of a sporting event, dangerous situation, or true emergency (like an automobile accident or house fire), it doesn’t do us much good these days. We have to find other coping mechanisms and different ways to calm back down and that’s where making an effort to relax more comes in.
Have you ever gone through a period in your life where you drank way too much coffee (or other caffeinated beverage)? At first, a cup of coffee in the morning will wake you up and keep you alert for a couple of hours. Then, as you start to drink more and more throughout the day, it takes larger quantities of coffee to get the same effect. Your body builds up a caffeine tolerance.
It works the same with stress. The more often we are stressed, the more adrenaline and other stimulating substances and hormones the body has to dump into our system to get the same reaction. The problem is that being too stressed too often takes its toll on the mind and body. When we start this awareness, we need to get down to a safer level of stress.
When Stress Is Good
Stress isn’t inherently a bad thing. Instead, it’s a vital survival process that allowed us to run away from danger or get ready for challenges or daily tasks. Even today, stress can motivate us and help us get through cramming all night long for an important event or getting an important work project finished. There is a time and a place for stress. The big problem today is that we’re under too much stress and feel it almost all the time. That’s when stress can become very challenging and can lead to mind/body problems.
When Stress Is Bad
Stress tends to be categorized into two different types:
- Acute stress and
- Chronic stress.
Acute stress is what you feel when you’re in a dangerous situation. When your house catches on fire, and you barely get out, you’re feeling acute stress. While it takes a toll on the body, it’s not nearly as dangerous as chronic stress.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is the type of constant stress we feel day in and day out that I described at the beginning of this post. It simply starts to wear out the mind and body.
Long-term stress will do damage to your heart, your arteries, and even your gut and your immune system. Chronic stress will lead to depression, chronic fatigue, confusion, and many more health concerns.
Chronically stressed people frequently suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, stomach and digestive problems, ulcers and, due to a lowered immune system, they are more susceptible to various bacterial and viral infections like cold and flu. Add to that the fact that high stress is often accompanied by insomnia it’s no wonder we feel bad.
This kind of persistent stress makes it harder to heal and recover from any injury or sickness, and it’s clear that this kind of stress is dangerous and something we need to address.
It’s important to focus on reducing stress as much as we can and find ways to cope better. We have to actively make time for relaxation to give our body a chance to recoup and recover.
While there isn’t always a lot we can do about external stressors, there is a lot we can do to counterbalance it such as yoga and meditation, getting more sleep and cutting back on distractions.
Are Stress And Anxiety The Same Thing?
The difference between anxiety and stress is that stress is a response to a threatening situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at some time in their life.
How To Know If You Are Too Stressed
Often the first signs that you’re being stressed out are a general feeling of anxiety and feeling unwell. Many people are unaware that they are in the state of stress and not recognizing the early warning signs. They address it only when they are in a state of anxiety with physical symptoms like shortness of breath and palpitations.
Some early warning signs that you are experiencing too much stress include having trouble sleeping and finding it harder to concentrate and focus. You may be eating more and snacking throughout the day in an effort to keep your energy up. Sweet and salty foods are particularly appealing, and it’s not uncommon to get in the habit of self-medicating with a glass of wine or the likes in the evening to unwind.
You are feeling overwhelmed and it’s all too easy to focus only on the negative. From there it’s just a short trip into depression and loneliness. That comes with its own set of physical symptoms like nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, and such. You are even more likely to come down with the cold or flu as your immune system is compromised.
The problem is that these symptoms of being stressed tend to stress us out even more. We keep pushing harder to make up for lost time. We get more stressed and start feeling worse.
The only way to break the cycle is to address the problem – the stress. We do it by making a conscious effort to cut out stress, relax, and give ourselves, our bodies, and our minds the time and rest they need to recover.
How Stress Affects You
Chronic stress can affect all areas of your life including your physical health, mental health, relationships, and productivity at work, causing symptoms from headaches, lack of concentration, high blood pressure, isolation, chest pain to heart palpitations, skin rashes, and loss of sleep.
But I know for a fact that you can learn how to reduce the impact of stress and manage your symptoms.
How People Deal With Stress
Each person responds to stress in a different way but, as mentioned above, some common ways people deal with stress are:
- Using caffeine or other stimulants in an attempt to have the energy to make it through the day
- Eating more or snacking throughout the day to keep your energy up
- Sleeping more
- Using nicotine, alcohol, or other substances to self-medicate
- Push themselves harder to get things done
- Getting a massage
- Treating themselves to something special
- Taking a walk in nature
- Going to the gym to exercise
- Practicing meditation
- Talking to someone they know and trust
Why Stress Management Is Important
Stress management plans usually include a mix of stress relievers that address stress physically and psychologically.
There are many ways to reduce stress. However, we first have to recognize it, or ask for help to recognize it, like a mentor, a coach or therapy.
How to Relieve Stress
You have to allow yourself To Take Care Of Yourself Before You Can Take Care Of Everyone Else.
The most important thing you can do to relieve stress is to establish a healthy routine that allows you to put yourself first on the list.
Regular participation in physical activity is proven to reduce the symptoms of stress. Go for a walk, practice yoga, take classes at the gym.
Recognize the importance of rest and relaxation. Allow yourself to take a nap.
Taking time to relax actually helps you get more done. When it comes to stress relief, there is value in doing nothing at all.
Some effective relaxation techniques include:
- Learning to master breathwork and meditation there are many free apps for that
- Coloring books
- Losing yourself in a good book or movie
- Laughing out loud
- Nature medicine, being in fresh air, and nature walk
It is also important to build a network of self-care like:
- Massage, and
- Healing work (like Reiki).
Taking supplements and eating well will help support your immune system and energy level.
These are just a few of the ways you can begin to find relief while you learn ways to manage your stress.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a deeper look at stress management and effective techniques you can use to help you balance your mind, body, and soul.
Mentoring & teaching courageous women how to empower, embrace, evolve, and navigate life’s transitions with more balance and peace.
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