What Is Stress?
Stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone when change and transitions occur in our life. For example, stress can happen during positive events: Child birth, planning a marriage, your child playing in a championship sports game, but it’s nature is generally negative. Stress becomes a problem when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation. Thankfully, the human body is designed to experience and react to stress by producing a physical and mental response to stressors.
What Causes Stress?
Stressors are anything in our environment that puts a demand on a person or threatens our well-being. These fall into three main types:
- Catastrophes: Natural disasters, earthquakes and hurricanes, terrorism, or war.
- Significant life changes: Physical or sexual trauma and transitions like leaving home, becoming married or divorced, getting let go from a job, or the death of a loved one.
- Daily hassles: Experiencing prejudice or racism, rush hour traffic, long lines at the store, too many emails, having a spotty phone connection, and not enough time to get stuff done.
Two key factors influence your stress response:
- How we perceive the stressor.
- How much control do we think we have to deal with that stressor?
For example, you might look at a bill you just received as threatening if there is no money in the bank to cover it. Then, if you don’t get paid before the bill is due, you may feel trapped and unable to cope.
When stress occurs in large doses or is prolonged over time, it can weaken our immune system and severely impact overall health.
What Happens To The Body During Stress?
Stress is a survival mechanism. When real or perceived danger appears, it can quickly get you out of trouble because your brain kicks into gear. It starts by energizing the body’s fight-or-flight response to stressful stimuli and prepares us to take action. In that instant, your adrenal glands release stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol—that activate various reactions throughout the body.
- Your heart rate increases.
- Your blood pressure rises to send blood quickly to where you need it most.
- Your eyes dilate.
- Your breathing increases.
- Your muscles tighten.
- Your blood sugar level increases.
- Your immune system gets a boost.
All of these immediate physical effects work together to prepare you to run away or face the challenge. Next, your body releases cortisol to get your body and mind back to normal. After the stressor has passed, your cortisol will reduce to a level that is normal for you.
When Is Stress A Problem
Stress isn’t always something to be concerned about. However, it’s essential to pay attention to stress symptoms. The emergency state that stress activates is only meant to last long enough to get you out of danger. When stress levels persist, cortisol builds up in your brain, becoming too much of a good thing.
Unfortunately, life in the 21st century tends to create an imbalance between the adverse experiences we face every day and our ability to cope with them. Yes, it pays to spend our resources fighting or fleeing an external threat. But we do so at a cost. When stress is momentary, the cost is small. However, the cost is much higher with persistent or chronic stress.
When your brain and body stay on alert, stress becomes a problem, and you are less able to:
- Think clearly
- Learn from your experiences
- Remember things
And that’s just part of the problem.
When Stress Gets Excessive
Chronic stress weakens our immune system and lowers our resistance to infection. In short, chronic—or excessive stress—threatens our physical well-being and mental health.
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Weak immune system
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
- Headaches, dizziness, or shaking
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Trouble having sex
Stress can lead to emotional and mental symptoms like:
- Anxiety or irritability
- Panic attacks
Once you recognize that stress is an issue, you need to deal with it.
Ways to Reduce Stress and Anxiety?
Thankfully, research shows several surefire ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Go ahead and give ‘em a try. You’ll be glad you did.
Rule out medical conditions.
Stress symptoms are easily confused with serious medical issues that need to be treated by your primary care doctor. Make a list of the symptoms you’re noticing and take it with you when you visit your physician.
Avoid Stressful situations.
Avoiding stressful people or situations can be healthy. However, be careful of avoiding specific stressful experiences if they are essential to your mental health. For example, staying away from people because you find socializing uncomfortable can lead to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. Even more, it also narrows your support system.
Follow Top Strategies and Ways To Reduce Stress
You can’t always avoid stress, but you can stop it from becoming overwhelming by practicing some daily strategies:
- Breathe: Take deep breaths. Stress is a physical reaction and deep breathing helps to counteract its effects.
- Loosen up. You can’t control everything. Let go of stressful things you can’t change.
- Eat right. Eating nutrient-dense food nourishes your body and helps prevent stress.
- Get some sleep. Rested brains work better. Sleep deprived brains create more stress.
- Regular exercise. Running, yoga, or sports are great ways to relieve stress.
- Reflect on your accomplishments, not what you didn’t get done.
- Get In Control. Scope out the situation and develop a step-by-step action plan by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts.
- Don’t stress alone. Talk to someone, especially people you know and trust.
- A friend, family member or neighbor can become a good listener or share responsibilities so that stress doesn’t become overwhelming.
- Have a laugh. Although your brain is very sophisticated, you can’t laugh and quake with fear at the same time.
- It’s tempting to “do it yourself” but the price is typically more stress.
- Just say no… to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed.
- Get down with nature. Do it on a big or small scale. Go for a hike, walk the dog, pet your cat, plant flowers in the garden.
- Distract Yourself: If your mind won’t stop worrying, do something else. For example, pop bubble wrap, grab a stress relief gadget like the faces of the moon stress ball.
Consider talking to a therapist about your stress concerns
It’s natural and normal to be stressed sometimes. But long-term stress can leave you feeling trapped and enslaved by it. Left untreated, it can threaten your physical well-being as well as your mental health. If your best efforts at stress relief don’t work, reach out and get the help you need to thrive! You deserve it. Mental Health Counseling might be the answer you are looking for.
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