Notice The Signs Of Stress
Stress can show itself in different ways for different people. While some may experience physical pain others may feel overwhelmed, avoid people, procrastinate, lose their temper, or judge themselves. The list is long.
The second step in breaking away from chronic stress is to recognize how stress shows up for you in your life. Review this list of reactions to stress and identify which ones you find yourself doing.
Image adapted from mollysfund.org/lupuschronic-illness-the-mindbody-connection
Ask yourself: What are early signals? What are red flags that signal a break-down? Which signals are easier to notice and which ones are more likely to go unnoticed? Take the time to get to know your stress reactions.
Find A Way To Destress That Works For You
Your last step is to pick your flavor of stress-management, so to speak. Your options are endless. If a certain way of de-stressing helped you in the past, go with it. If de-stressing is new to you or you want to expand your de-stress toolbox, visit the CWCs Relaxation Exercises Videos which introduces some basic ways to strengthen your nervous system. Take some time to practice them several times a week, and after several practices decide which one is the best fit for you. From then on, practice daily. To start practice for a couple of minutes a day, slowly adding more time as needed.
Just like learning how to the play the piano, practice this new skill daily. Be patient with yourself and let go of self-judgment and expectations. Remind yourself that you are improving every time you practice and in matter of weeks or months youll find yourself free from chronic stress.
Manage Chronic Stress With Proper Self
Of course, the causes of stress differ from person to person. But the need for regular self-care to reduce or manage chronic stress and replenish energy does not. Everyone needs to manage stress to prevent burnout and promote their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Do you make time to manage stress? And do you take time for self-care on a regular basis? Itâs important to take care of you.
Regular self-care offers:
âYou canât pour from an empty cup.â If youâre dealing with burnout, itâs much harder, if not impossible, to take care of your family, parents, or employees well.
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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.
How Does Your Body Respond To Stress
When faced with a stressor, your brain and body respond in a whole host of ways that serve to keep you safe from the threat.
Our underlying cognitive and emotional patterns serve a function to integrate really complex information about the world and help us move toward an action in response to that, says Dr. Rebecca Hendrickson, an acting assistant professor in the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
In other words, stress alerts you that you need to act in order to stay safe and prepares your body to do so.
This is often called the fight-or-flight response. When exposed to a threat, your body preps you to fight or flee, then once the threat has passed, your body returns to a normal, calm state.
While this response system is helpful in cases like jumping out of the way of an oncoming car or that classic example of ancient humans running from a predator, it is less effective in situations where fighting or fleeing arent useful solutions.
If you remain on high alert, stress can become chronic, which can cause harm to your body and well-being.
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A New Kind Of Pandemic Stress In 202: Chronic
The pandemic was stressful in March of 2020 because there was so much uncertainty. We didnt know how we would manage the changes we were told to make: working or schooling from home, wearing masks, keeping our distance from others. But many of us figured we could do anything it took for a short time. When I called my clients to tell them I was moving everyone to telehealth, I had two who insisted that they would just wait for me to return to the office. Neither they nor I thought it would be eighteen months before I returned to my office.
But no matter how well we managed the stress of the pandemic when it began, now the stress has become chronic. Therefore, the research discussed above that links chronic stress to AI becomes relevant.
An analogy that helped many of my clients by the summer of 2020 was that we had to start thinking about managing this pandemic as a marathon rather than as a sprint. We cant just put our heads down and power through a stressor if it lasts months or years. We need to actively develop strategies to manage chronic stress. Or perhaps redouble our stress management efforts.
Talk About Your Problems
If things are bothering you, talking about them can help lower your stress. You can talk to family members, friends, a trusted clergyman, your doctor, or a therapist.
And you can also talk to yourself. Itâs called self-talk and we all do it. But in order for self-talk to help reduce stress you need to make sure itâs positive and not negative.
So listen closely to what youâre thinking or saying when youâre stressed out. If youâre giving yourself a negative message, change it to a positive one. For example, donât tell yourself âI canât do this.â Tell yourself instead: âI can do this,â or âIâm doing the best I can.â
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How Stress Affects Your Thoughts And Emotions
You might notice signs of stress in the way you think, act, and feel. You may:
- Feel cranky and unable to deal with even small problems.
- Feel frustrated, lose your temper more often, and yell at others for no reason.
- Feel jumpy or tired all the time.
- Find it hard to focus on tasks.
- Worry too much about small things.
- Feel that you are missing out on things because you can’t act quickly.
- Imagine that bad things are happening or about to happen.
How stress affects you depends on many things, such as:
- Your personality.
Effects On The Entire Body
Chronic stress can also wreak havoc on the digestive system. For instance, it can cause colitis or worsen inflammatory bowel disease. This is because chronic stress disturbs the microbiome in the gut.
In addition to the above effects, chronic stress can also have an impact on the entire body, including your nervous system, muscles, immune system, and hormones.
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Types Of Chronic Stress
- Emotional stress
- Environmental stress
- Relationship stress
- Work stress
In many instances, these types of stresses affect multiple domains in a person’s life. Work stress can create stress in your relationships. Relationship stress can make it more difficult to manage difficult emotions.
For example, if your family is struggling financially or with a severe illness, the stress can become chronic. Someone in your home may not be able to work, bills are piling up and your home is nearing foreclosure, and this can leave you stressed for months or even a year or more.
Your constant worry wears down your body, making you feel tired and anxious. You may be working harder than ever to make ends meet and make unhealthy choices about food and exercise, which can make you feel even worse. This can lead to a number of significant health concerns.
We can also have chronic stress related to work. Many jobs require a lot from us, and it can often feel like you never get a break or are always under pressure to perform.
Working overtime, constant travel, and high-pressure business relations can keep your body in a constant state of excitement, even when you get home to your family. This can also add to the wear and tear on your body, and continuous stress can contribute to serious health issues like heart disease.
Set Constructive Worry Time
Raise your hand if youve ever laid in bed mulling over every anxiety from the day.
We are not good at coming up with insightful, creative solutions at 1 a.m. when our mind is racing and exhausted, Hendrickson says.
Cope with these intrusive thoughts by setting aside time each day to worry. At that time, write down everything that is concerning you, then go through the list to see if there is something you can or should do. This might mean making sure to do laundry before an upcoming event or it might be calling a friend because you arent sure how to cope with a situation.
This will not only help you work through specific problems, but it will also keep you from late-night or endless worrying. If you notice stressful thoughts creeping in throughout the day or late at night, remind yourself you have designated time to address these thoughts and that you will get to them then.
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Periodic Stress Is Productive Chronic Stress Kills
While it might seem best to remove all stress from our lives, thats not how it works.Truth is, too little stress can leave you boredand depressed, whereas too much can cause worry, anxiety, and poor health. The right amount of periodic stress, however, stimulates the brain and improves fitness and health.
Stress is our bodys biological response to threats and challenging situations. Stress stimulates your natural survival mechanism in response to danger, called the fight or flight response. The stress response causes an increased production of specific stress hormones with the primary hormone being cortisol.
In the short-term, stress is beneficial. However, chronic stress may lead to unwanted health conditions including high blood pressure, a hindered immune system, and cardiovascular disease.
In this article, well review how to harness the positive effects of stressthrough an active lifestyle and how to manageit in other areas so you can live your best life.
Tips For Managing Chronic Stress
Successful management of chronic stress can vary from person to person what works for you may not for someone else. Here are some stress-busting tips may help you cope with stress:
- Get active. Physical activity can positively affect your mood and reduce stress. Walking is a great way to start, but if you want something more invigorating, try a heart-pumping aerobic activity like jogging, dance, or swimming. Just make sure you check with your doctor first.
- Try tai-chi or other relaxation exercises. Activities like tai-chi, yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises may take you out of your comfort zone, but they can be a worthwhile experience for many people. For example, one study among older individuals published in The Journals of Gerontology found that tai chi helped reduce participants stressful feelings while increasing positive emotions.
- Prioritize your sleep. Getting enough sleep is important for many areas of your health and wellbeing, and its benefits on stress management are no different. When you sleep, your brain unpacks much of the days activities and stressors during the various phases of sleep, including rapid-eye-movement. These tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can help train your brain to sleep longer and better for optimal health benefits.
- Avoid self-isolation. Surround yourself with a support network of people who care about your wellbeing, and use that network when you need it.
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More Fulfilling Personal Relationships
Finally, managing your chronic stress can help you build more fulfilling relationships. This is true at work and in your home life.
When chronic stress has less of a hold on your health and your mood, you can be your best self with other people in your life. You have greater emotional bandwidth to provide support to those you love when your own cup is filled.
How Stress Affects The Body
Common symptoms of stress include:
- A fast heartbeat.
- An upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea.
Over time, stress can affect your:
- Immune system. Constant stress can make you more likely to get sick more often. And if you have a chronic illness such as AIDS, stress can make your symptoms worse.
- Heart. Stress is linked to high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat , blood clots, and hardening of the arteries . It’s also linked to coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart failure.
- Muscles. Constant tension from stress can lead to neck, shoulder, and low back pain. Stress may make rheumatoid arthritis worse.
- Stomach. If you have stomach problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or irritable bowel syndrome, stress can make your symptoms worse.
- Reproductive organs. Stress is linked to low fertility, erection problems, problems during pregnancy, and painful menstrual periods.
- Lungs. Stress can make symptoms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease worse.
- Skin. Skin problems such as acne and psoriasis are made worse by stress.
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Frequent Illness And Infections
The stress response, and the hormones that are released, protect the body in threatening situations by stimulating the immune system but can weaken the immune system if the stress continues and stress hormone levels stay elevated.
This can lower the body’s ability to fight foreign invaders, making you more susceptible to viral illnesses or other infections, and increasing recovery time from illness or injury.
Learn To Avoid Procrastination
Another way to take control of your stress is to stay on top of your priorities and avoid procrastinating.
Procrastination may harm your productivity and leave you scrambling to catch up. This can cause stress, which negatively affects your health and sleep quality .
A study in 140 medical students in China linked procrastination to increased stress levels. The study also associated procrastination and delayed stress reactions with more negative parenting styles, including punishment and rejection .
If you find yourself procrastinating regularly, it may be helpful to get in the habit of making a to-do list organized by priority. Give yourself realistic deadlines and work your way down the list.
Work on the things that need to get done today and give yourself chunks of uninterrupted time. Switching between tasks or multitasking can be stressful in itself.
If you find yourself regularly procrastinating, staying on top of your to-do list may help ward off related stress.
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Tips For Managing Chronic Pain
If you are like at least 3 out of 10 people in the U.S. who experience chronic pain, you know what a big problem it is. While short-term pain typically heals, chronic pain lasts longer than three months, hurts most of the time and gets in the way of things daily activities.
Chronic pain has many causes, including injuries, illnesses, and prolonged physical, emotional or social stress. The brain decides when you are in pain, but that does not mean that pain is in your head. For example, pain is not always caused by a broken or worn out body part. Chronic pain can be due to the brain reading signals sent from the body and sending signals back to your body. The more signals to the brain and the more the brain labels the signals as pain, often the longer the difficulties with pain can last.
Everyone’s pain is different, and there are many causes of worsening pain. Stress, depression, anger, anxiety or fear, unhelpful thoughts, isolation, underdoing and overdoing can create more pain signals in the body. Putting yourself in charge helps you manage chronic pain better.
That’s where chronic pain management comes in.
The goal of chronic pain management is to help you have the best function and quality of life possible. You and your providers can create a pain plan that can put you in control.
These techniques are tried-and-true strategies when used consistently and together to help you manage chronic pain:
1. Stretch, practice good posture and move gently.
2. Stay active.
How Can I Manage My Stress
Use your strengths and skills to make a positive plan to address the stressful events in your life and how youre reacting to stress.
Whether your stress is internal or external, relaxation techniques can help you manage stress and boost your ability to cope. There are many different techniques, and its important you find the ones that work for you. Examples include slow breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and exercise.
Read more here on relaxation techniques for stress relief.
A friend or family member can also be a great source of support, but at times you may feel you need help from a professional. Consider talking to a counsellor, psychologist or social worker who can work with you to identify the source of your stress and develop strategies to better manage it.
Psychologists and other therapists use a range of approaches to help manage stress and anxiety. One evidence-based approach is a technique known as cognitive behavior therapy which is based on the idea that how you think and act affects how you feel.
Watch this video from This Way Up about ways to cope during stressful or difficult times.
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