Stress has a way of creeping up on us. We have the ability to deal with stress over short periods of time but when stress is ongoing, the negative effects can slowly build up over a period of time. There is often an unrealistic expectation on ourselves or put on us by others that we should be able to operate productively despite increasing or unrelenting levels of stress.
Are you stressed? How to recognize that you are.
Stress is a normal response when we’re under a lot of pressure at work, when there are big changes in our lives, events we have little control of, financial troubles, health, family and relationship problems.
There are a lot of expectations in our modern lives causing us to frequently be in a state of stress. If the stress is constant, and this is how we normally feel, we may forget what it’s like not to be stressed. Some people do not make the connection between their levels of stress and some of the physical symptoms they are experiencing. Stress may be responsible for symptoms such as:
- Tension in the neck, shoulders and jaw
- Digestion issues
- Skin problems
- Chest pains
- Trouble sleeping
- Clammy hands and feet
- Grinding of teeth
- Difficulty sleeping
- Missed menstrual periods
Stress also has emotional, psychological and behavioral symptoms. Things like:
- Difficulty in relaxing
- Low self-esteem
- Socially distant
- Inability to focus
- Negative thoughts
- Appetite changes
- Increased cigarette, drugs or alcohol intake
Some symptoms of stress can also be signs of existing health problems. It’s important to have your doctor evaluate your symptoms to rule out other conditions.
Our body is designed to handle stress in the short term, but not the long term, without damaging effects.
In caveman days if a bear appeared, your breathing and heart rate would increase, your muscles would tense and you would get ready to fight the bear, run away from the bear or freeze and hope the bear would ignore you. It is our survival mechanism against danger.
We don’t usually encounter bears in our modern lives, but we have the same response to threat and danger that now take the form of work pressure, money problems, family issues and even traffic jams.
And while it’s true that stress in small doses can help motivate us to accomplish tasks and enhance our mental and physical performance, chronic stress (or stress experienced with frequency and intensity) can lead to consequences detrimental to our health and well-being.
Can you imagine the toll it will take on your body if you consistently have high levels of stress hormones, your heart rate and blood pressure up all the time? Acute stress is known to lead to:
- Eating disorders
- Sexual dysfunction
- Hair loss
- Skin problems like acne, eczema and psoriasis
- Gastrointestinal problems like GERD and ulcerative colitis
- Mental health problems like anxiety and depression
- Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke or heart attack
Some people trivialize the stress they are under and soldier on. However, while you still might be “okay” now, stress can slowly build up and become a serious problem in the long run.
Some coping mechanisms make stress even worse
We have different ways of coping with stress. But how we deal with it is not always healthy.
For instance, some people drink, smoke or eat in unhealthy ways when they are under pressure, thinking this is how they are able to cope. Some become short-tempered and agitated and take it out on their loved ones, while some react by isolating themselves and avoiding other people.
These negative coping mechanisms add more complication to your circumstances and can aggravate your stress even further. So while they may offer temporary relief, it is not the best way to handle stress.
Create and practice healthier ways to cope with stress
You can manage stress in a healthy way by making sure you wind down and relax at some point in your day. The key is to find what works best for you to de-stress and continue this practice until it becomes a daily habit. Here are some suggestions.
Eating and drinking healthy. Consuming a healthy, balanced diet can help fight the effects of stress by decreasing cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body, lowering blood pressure and boosting the immune system. Some of the healthy food you can include in your diet are citrus fruits, whole grains and vegetables that are rich in complex carbohydrates. Swap caffeine drinks for herbal teas such as mint or chamomile.
Exercise as regularly as possible. Aerobic exercise is a great stress reliever because it releases endorphins, a chemical that helps you feel good. It also reduces muscle tension and pain. Set a reasonable goal and schedule and stick to it.
Practice breathing exercises. Your breathing is slow and regular when you are relaxed. When you breathe deeply, your body sends a signal to your brain to lower your heart rate and calm down. If you haven’t tried deep breathing exercises before, try belly breathing. It’s easy and simple to do: push your belly out as you breathe in and pull it in as you exhale.
Listen to music. While our preferences in music vary, music in general is known to help lower blood pressure, act as an outlet to unexpressed feelings we associate with stress, and act as a distraction.
Examine your stress-triggers. Reflect on what is causing you to be stressed out and make a plan on how you can act on it. If you have too much work, practice time management, learn to say no, set your priorities and most importantly, reserve some time to care for yourself.
Go to retreats. Attending stress retreats can help you reconnect with yourself, focus on what truly matters, get your balance back and foster your well-being.
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants. High amounts of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other stimulants reduce blood flow and elevate your cortisol levels so try to avoid it or at least reduce your intake when you are stressed.
If you want to learn more about stress and what you can do to manage it in healthy ways, visit Free Course – Simple Tips to Reduce Stress.