But Wait Why Is Stress Bad
Stress is a killer the research clearly states it. But just how pervasive stress has become is not well understood by the majority of the population. What is also not fully understood is the devastating effect this constant stream of stress has on our body, as well as our minds.
And perhaps worst of all, even if we think we are stressed our body reacts like we are stressed. Its truly a vicious cycle. Avoiding stress, or at least trying to limit it, is vital for a variety of reasons. For starters, your eating habits will likely improve, as stress is one of the biggest reasons for poor food choices.
Tied in with this is better sleep. Since a lack of sleep has been scientifically tied to poor dietary choices the following day, you can see just how interdependent all these elements truly are.
Signs And Symptoms Of Stress Overload
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You dont notice how much its affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. Thats why its important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.
- Other mental or emotional health problems
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits
Realize That Everyone Is Too Stressed
I know it may be hard to empathize with your boss who is crushing you at work, but bear with me here. We are all slammed with stress nowadays. As we age, it becomes even more difficult to maintain a healthy stress level. Your metabolism slows, stress and responsibility goes up. It becomes very difficult to stay healthy. The best time to act is today no matter how old you may be. While many have been fooled into thinking that increased stress is just part of life, the real truth is that we have failed to correct a lot of little bad habits, and they start to catch up with us when our body and mind are no longer invincible. Remember: When it comes to chronic stress, the little things add up.
The real cause of stress as a negative risk factor comes from little, daily, seemingly inconsequential problems. Our body is supposed to handle acute stressors, like exercise, near-crashes in cars, etc. It is not meant to constantly be worried about social media updates or selfie angles. And therein lies the rub modern life is too chronically stressful. This is just a fact. But what else can we do?
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What Are Some Ways To Prevent Stress
Many daily strategies can help you keep stress at bay:
- Try relaxation activities, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation. Programs are available online, in smartphone apps, and at many gyms and community centers.
- Take good care of your body each day. Eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep help your body handle stress much better.
- Stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good parts of your day or life.
- Accept that you cant control everything. Find ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change.
- Learn to say no to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed.
- Stay connected with people who keep you calm, make you happy, provide emotional support and help you with practical things. A friend, family member or neighbor can become a good listener or share responsibilities so that stress doesnt become overwhelming.
Ways To Minimize The Impact Of Stress On The Body
Whether youre dealing with chronic stress or experience it occasionally on a situational basis , its possible to reset and find a more stable sense of peace and happiness in your daily life.
Treat your body well: It may sound obvious, but its worthy of repeating: Anything that helps the brain and body to have more sustainable energy is going to keep stress reactions minimized, because we can adapt more effectively, explains Hanna. Sleeping at least seven hours at night, eating healthy foods every three to four hours to stabilize blood sugar, and moving at least every 90 minutes during the day to facilitate optimal circulation can reduce the wear and tear of daily stress.
Identify and anticipate your stressors: This may require some introspection, but the effort will be worthwhile. It’s important to be aware of what things create more stress for you, says Hartstein. Is work a place that is stressful? Do you take too much responsibility for things and then not take care of yourself? Knowing what things trigger your stress is really important. If you can do some coping ahead some planning for those stressful moments you can minimize the stress and help yourself through the moments without becoming too overwhelmed.
Even just three to five minutes of slow, rhythmic breathing can start to train the nervous system to be more adaptive.
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How Is Chronic Stress Different From Other Types Of Stress
Chronic stress differs from other types of stress based on time. Acute stress occurs in the short term chronic stress persists for longer durations.
For example, a tight deadline or a traffic jam may cause acute stress that goes away once you finish the project or get to your destination. However, if you sit in traffic every day or work a high-stress job, the consistent low-grade stress has the potential to become chronic stress.
Chronic stress causes problems because it prevents your body from relaxing and returning to its baseline, calm state.
When you undergo sustained, chronic stress, like that of the pandemic or caring for an ill loved one, the systems in your body that typically return you to your baseline dont kick in. This means you remain in a heightened state of physiological arousal, which can lead to things like increased heart rate and high blood pressure.
How Can You Cope With Chronic Stress
You might not be able or willing to change the circumstances that are causing you stress, but you can build resiliency and learn strategies that help reduce stress and promote well-being.
Anything that interrupts those positive feedback loops and helps actively strengthen the breaks in for our fight-or-flight and stress response systems, helps decrease the negative effects of chronic stress, Hendrickson says.
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A Simple Way To Combat Chronic Stress
For most leaders today, frequent stress is inevitable. But with awareness and a little skill, its negative impacts are not.
Intense negative experiences of stress are all too common. Consider Stefano, coauthor of this article. In 1998, Stefano began a career abroad while simultaneously completing an MBA. He worked and studied 14 hours a day, seven days a week, fueled by a constant flow of stress hormones. By the end of that year, he suffered from fatigue, headaches, impatience, and irritability, yet he ignored his symptoms and kept going. Soon those symptoms escalated into full-blown burnout: dizziness, heart palpitations, inability to concentrate, panic attacks, apathy, insomnia, and depression. He eventually decided that he needed to take a full six months to rebuild his mental and physical well-being before he could return to work.
Chronic stress impacts people in different ways. In a recent global survey we conducted of 740 leaders, 84% reported experiencing stress on a regular basis . As you might expect, more than half of the 84% said stress had a negative impact on their effectiveness, interactions, or business results. However, the remaining leaders around 45% told a different story. In their experience, stress either had no impact on their leadership or had a positive effect. More than 25% said stress actually improved their effectiveness.
What Other Conditions Are Related To Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is linked to other conditions, both psychological and physical. These can include:
- Diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, Type II diabetes, and arthritis
- Addiction to alcohol, nicotine and/or prescription drugs, and behavioral-related such as addiction to the internet, food, or gambling
- Mood disorders and anxiety disorders, which are common secondary diagnoses for people with chronic stress
Hypertension, depression, addiction and anxiety disorders are the conditions most related to chronic stress.
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Practice Yoga And Meditation
A 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology found that mind-body interventions such as yoga, meditation, and Tai-Chi, can actually produce molecular changes in DNA. According to the study, those who practice these activities may be able to reduce the risk of inflammation and inflammation-related diseases when under stress. In other words, according to the studys authors, MBIs reverse the negative effects of stress by literally changing your biology.
Breathing And Relaxation Exercises
Many people find exercises that focus on breathing and muscle relaxation to be helpful in relieving stress. The playlist below will help you to understand how stress works and start feeling better. These exercises can be done anywhere and are designed to help you feel more relaxed in general, as well as helping you feel calmer if you are becoming stressed.
This playlist is free to download, and you can also stream it using the Soundcloud website or app. You can download and listen to individual tracks if there are particular exercises that work best for you. If you’re listening to it for the first time, it’s best to start from the beginning.
To access a BSL version of this playlist, .
Find out more by checking out these 10 stress busters.
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Strengthen Your Support System
Emotional support can serve as a protective shield against the damaging effects of stress. According to the American Psychological Association, a strong social support system can actually enhance your ability to handle stressors on your own by increasing self-esteem and confidence.
And its not just the amount of people in your life that matters its the quality of the friends, family members, and other people in your support system. Make sure youre leaning on the supportive, understanding relationships in your life to increase feelings of connectedness, self-worth, and security, as opposed to the toxic, depleting relationships.
Social networks take a variety of forms, such as having a phone conversation with a close family member, volunteering with an organization, or meeting a friend for coffee. The feeling of belongingness that arises when you connect with others can make stressful situations seem more manageable.
Life can be full of stress at some times more than others. Pay attention to when the stress extends for longer periods of time and make sure youre armed with coping tactics so you can manage it in a healthy way.
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What Happens To My Body When I Experience Stress
People react differently to stress. Some common symptoms of stress include sleeping problems, sweating or a change in appetite.6,7
Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in your body which, when released, allow you to deal with pressures or threats. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Hormones called adrenaline and noradrenaline raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate and increase the rate at which you perspire. This prepares your body for an emergency response.8 These hormones can also reduce blood flow to your skin and reduce your stomach activity. Cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into your system to boost your energy.9
As a result, you may experience headaches, muscle tension, pain, nausea, indigestion and dizziness. You may also breathe more quickly, have palpitations or suffer from various aches and pains. In the long-term, you may be putting yourself at risk from heart attacks and stroke.10
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Improving Your Ability To Handle Stress
Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully .
Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when youre feeling agitated or insecure. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and dont let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. If you dont have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.
Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your sensessight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.
The Effects Of Chronic Stress
Your nervous system isnt very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If youre super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if youre facing a true life-or-death situation. And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.
If you tend to get stressed out frequently, like many of us in todays demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:
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Are There Any Stress Medications
There is currently no such thing as a stress medication, but generally doctors will prescribe anxiety medications instead. Technically stress and anxiety are different, but they share enough similarities that the effects are considered the same.
If you are simply under a great deal of stress but your actual anxiety symptoms are not that strong, your doctor will likely prescribe you a very mild anxiolytic . Buspirone is a popular one, as it is considered one of the weakest on the market but also has the fewest side effects. Buspar is one of the few that is only an anxiolytic as well, so it’s unlikely to cause fatigue, personality changes, etc. All it does is reduce anxiety.
However, many find that Buspar is a bit too weak for their needs. Even though it has fewer side effects than other medications, it also may have some adverse reactions in some people. Unless your anxiety is pronounced, it’s unlikely that you’ll be given traditional anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines for your stress. Benzodiazepines tend to cause a bit too much fatigue, and the addiction risk is pretty strong.
Instead, you’ll likely be prescribed antidepressants, the most common being selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Prozac is one of the most well-known SSRIs available, and others include Paxil, Effexor, and Vanatrip.
Explore Your Options At Work
If your stressors are not work-related and even if they are your employer may be able to do more to help. The Ulster University study of health and social care workers emphasised the important role of employers in supporting staff through the pressures of the pandemic, and helping them to recover.
People had so many additional pressures in their personal life, they found it sometimes impossible to juggle home schooling kids, caring for elderly relatives and trying to hold down their jobs, says McFadden. If employers allowed them to work flexibly, that helped them to cope with their stress at work.
If pressures in your family life could be alleviated by changes to your work patterns, it is worth raising that with your manager as is the provision of any technology or equipment that would make it easier to work from home.
Employers, meanwhile, need to take the initiative by making systemic changes to support staff to take breaks and holidays, to create pathways to expert psychological help, and to make available opportunities for extra recovery time, if necessary.
The study showed that even relatively straightforward things, such as clear lines of communication and face-to-face time with managers and colleagues, made a difference to peoples work-related wellbeing and ability to manage stress. Even if only virtually, connection really matters, says McFadden.
In the case of the health and social care sectors, more funding is what is needed, the study concluded.
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Tip : Connect To Others
There is nothing more calming than spending quality time with another human being who makes you feel safe and understood. In fact, face-to-face interaction triggers a cascade of hormones that counteracts the bodys defensive fight-or-flight response. Its natures natural stress reliever . So make it a point to connect regularlyand in personwith family and friends.
Keep in mind that the people you talk to dont have to be able to fix your stress. They simply need to be good listeners. And try not to let worries about looking weak or being a burden keep you from opening up. The people who care about you will be flattered by your trust. It will only strengthen your bond.
Of course, its not always realistic to have a pal close by to lean on when you feel overwhelmed by stress, but by building and maintaining a network of close friends you can improve your resiliency to lifes stressors.
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