What is Stress?
Stress is a normal response by the body to any type of undue pressure. When we are stressed, the body goes into fight-or-flight mode, causing a release of hormones and chemicals, such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, to prepare the body for physical action. As such, stress is actually a good thing – we benefit from this physiologic response in order to deal with the things that put us in danger.
Stress – The Good and the Bad
When faced with an immediate danger, stress allows us to react quickly and appropriately. If we are being hunted by a lion, we run or find a way to fight back. If a person darts out into the road while we are driving, we quickly slam on the breaks. Stress can also help us to rise up to a challenge, which can be very helpful for becoming successful at school, work, or in competitive activities. Short terms bouts of stress can obviously be beneficial, but when a stressor never goes away, our stress response never shuts off. That’s why a stressful job, home life, or relationship (among other things) can wreak havoc on our emotional and physical health – our body is in a constant state of fight or flight. Moreover, the body is not able to discriminate between real and imagined dangers and challenges – meaning when we think about stressful things happening, our bodies react as if they are actually happening.
Health Consequences of Prolonged Stress
- Increased blood pressure
- Elevated blood sugars
- Digestive issues
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Cravings for high-sugar and high-fat foods
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances
- Decreased physical activity
- Decreased immune function
- Can aggravate skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema
- Can lead to hyperventilation and panic attacks
Tips for Managing Stress
Let’s face it – we can’t avoid all stress in our lives. So the best course of action is to eliminate unnecessary stress, and then learn to better deal with the stress we can’t avoid.
- Eliminate unnecessary stress
Prioritize your day and remove items from your list that aren’t necessary, or that you can delegate to someone else. Learn to politely decline requests that you can’t reasonably fit into your schedule and be sure to schedule “me-time” for at least 30 minutes per day.
- Practice self-calming activities
When you find yourself in moments of heightened stress, try deep breathing and/or visualization exercises. For example, breathe in slowly while counting to 5, hold your breath for another count of 5, then slowly exhale for 5. Repeat for a minute or two. Or, close your eyes and try picturing yourself in a relaxing setting, such as lying on the beach or being tucked up in your bed. For more, click here.
- Move more
Exercise is a great way to burn off jittery energy, quiet negative emotions, and get a boost of feel-good hormones like dopamine. It can also serve as a form of meditation – when engaged in a physical activity it can be hard to think about anything else but getting through the workout!
- Connect with others
Make time to be social – the sense of community we gain from friends, family members, and co-workers is an amazing stress reliever. Share a meal with co-workers, go for a walk with a friend, or volunteer regularly with others in your community.
- Change your outlook
Focusing on the positive in your life can help put stress into perspective. Take a moment each day to note at least 3 things for which you are grateful. More more on practicing gratitude, click here.