Stress is a word we hear almost every day now. Whether it’s “my job stresses me out” or “I feel like I’m under so much stress” or “I can’t look at the news without feeling stress,” it’s something that is all around us. This tension and anxiety can create an uncomfortable, emotional state and it can affect the body in many different ways, including increased blood pressure and heart rate, weight gain and/or loss, headaches, and many chronic diseases. Long-term, unrelieved stress is a large contributor to negative physical health. This is why it’s so important to understand stress levels fully, especially given the compounding impacts from the pandemic we’re all going through.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can motivate us. It can help us understand when something negative is happening around us that needs to change. It can encourage us to exercise and eat more healthily. Major life events such as moving, changing jobs, marriage or divorce, having children, losing a parent, or a major illness all cause significant stress. It’s learning how to manage that stress that can be one of the most important things in life.
It may be a co-worker, a romantic relationship, social media, or even just meeting deadlines. Once you’ve identified the trigger, you can focus on healthy habits that moderate that stress. You may need to exercise more, begin meditation or yoga or take time off being online. You may need therapy to navigate a relationship or a break-up. You may simply need to take time for yourself to talk to a good friend regularly, spend time on a hobby or enjoy something blissful like watching the stars or a good sunset. Eating healthily and on a regular schedule is important to managing stress, as is drawing boundaries between you and the stressor(s). Though it may be tempting to rely on alcohol or drugs to manage stress, neither is recommended. Getting at least eight hours of sleep each night is paramount to stress reduction. The change will be gradual, so sticking to these small changes every day will add up to great results.
Managing stress is a lifestyle. Learning how to reduce it through exercise, mindfulness, family, friends, faith, rest and relaxation is a life-long pursuit. Three of the most important things to remember when it comes to understanding stress are phrases that have become cliché for a reason. First, accept the things you cannot control. Two, be assertive, not aggressive, and; three, learn when to say no. These are just a handful of the simple, important things to remind yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed. All in all, reducing stress is about getting your life back in balance. And that can be a juggling act as stressors come and go.
The negative effect stress can have on your physical health is proven. Whether it’s migraines or weight gain, muscle pain or stomach issues, or high blood pressure, each malady can be positively changed by using consistent stress reduction methods. Finally, it’s important to know when stress is too much to handle on your own. If you have increasing physical symptoms, talk to your doctor. And consider reaching out to mental health hotlines or a therapist if you feel completely overwhelmed by stress. For more resources, visit the CDC’s Coping with Stress website.