Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself and improve how you think and feel by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. Everyone responds to stress differently. The stress response is the body’s way of signaling and protecting you. Inability to manage stress can cause a lot of problems to your body. The management involves a wide spectrum of techniques and psychotherapies.
Types of stress
There are two main types:
- Acute stress. This is short-term and goes away quickly. You feel it when you slam on the brakes, have a fight with your partner, or ski down a steep slope. It helps you manage dangerous situations. It also occurs when you do something new or exciting. Besides, everyone have acute stress at one time or another.
- Chronic stress. This lasts for a longer period of time. You may have chronic stress if you have money problems, an unhappy marriage, or trouble at work. Any type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is chronic. You can also become so used to chronic stress that you don’t realize it is a problem. If you don’t find ways to manage stress, it may lead to health problems.
Causes of stress
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.
Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate. And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of care-taking overwhelming and stressful.
Common major life events that can trigger stress include:
- job issues or retirement
- lack of time or money
- family problems
- moving home
- relationships, marriage, and divorce
Other commonly reported causes of stress are:
- abortion or miscarriage
- driving in heavy traffic or fear of an accident
- fear of crime or problems with neighbors
- pregnancy and becoming a parent
- excessive noise, overcrowding, and pollution
- uncertainty or waiting for an important outcome
Signs and symptoms
Stress can cause many types of physical and emotional symptoms. Sometimes, you may not realize these symptoms are due to stress. Here are some signs that stress may be affecting you:
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
Tips to manage stress
Managing stress is all about taking charge. This involves aspects such as your thoughts, emotions, environments, schedule and even the way you deal with problems daily. It also involves how you relax yourself, have fun and how you manage your relationships. People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives.
People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. Here are some tips to help you keep stress under control.
Step back and put the problem in perspective
It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a nagging partner or a school fees. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you let yourself have time to do something else. These can help you have a new perspective or practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed. It’s important to not avoid it (those fees have to be paid sometime), but even just 30 minutes to take care of yourself is helpful.
Find your own destressor
Most people have something that helps them relax, such as reading a book, going for a walk, listening to music, or spending time with a friend or a pet. Joining a choir or a gym helps some people.
Get more sleep
A lack of sleep significantly stresses you. Unfortunately though, stress also interrupts our sleep as thoughts keep whirling through our heads. This stops you from relaxing enough to fall asleep. Rather than relying on medication, your aim should be to maximize your relaxation before going to sleep.
Stop doing any mentally demanding work several hours before going to bed. This gives your brain time to calm down. Try taking a warm bath or reading a book for a few minutes to relax your body. It will also help you forget about the things that worry you. You should also aim to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable bedtime routine.
Eat a healthy diet
The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms. However, a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.
Accept those things beyond your control
Some circumstances are simply beyond our control. Therefore we have to learn to cope with and accept them. Fortunately, you do have control over how you react to stressful situations. Staying calm and being willing to accept emotional support from others can help de-stress.
Meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and also focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and also forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress. Much like exercise, research has shown that even meditating briefly can reap immediate benefits.
Physical exercise regularly is one of the best ways to relax your body and mind. In addition, exercise will improve your mood. But you have to do it often for it to pay off. At the very least, 3 to 5 times a week for 30 minutes per day such as walking in the morning and evening. Add about 50 minutes of a vigorous exercise like swimming laps, jogging, or other sports that gets your heart rate up. Focus on setting fitness goals you can meet so you don’t give up. Most of all remember that doing any exercise is better than none at all.
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol and smoking.
Avoid or at least reduce, your consumption of alcohol and any drinks containing caffeine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and so will increase your level of stress rather than reduce it. Alcohol is a depressant when taken in large quantities, but acts as a stimulant in smaller quantities. Therefore using alcohol as a way to alleviate stress is not ultimately helpful.
Swap caffeinated and alcoholic drinks for water, herbal teas, or diluted natural fruit juices and aim to keep yourself hydrated as this will enable your body to cope better with stress. In general, try to eat a healthy, well-balanced and nutritious diet.
Breathing and relaxation
Breathing and relaxation techniques such as meditation, massage, and yoga can help. They can slow down the system and help you relax. Breathing is also a central part of mindfulness meditation.
Get social support
When you share your concerns or feelings with another person, it does help relieve stress. Call a friend, send a message. It is important that, you talk to someone whom you trust and whom you feel can understand and validate you.