Manage Your Stress Levels
Feeling stressed? You’re definitely not alone. Stress has become a pervasive and widespread problem, wreaking havoc in our health, productivity, and overall well-being.
The American Institute of Stress, an organization devoted exclusively to stress in our culture, identifies the main sources of stress, how it affects people, and how to manage it. They have compiled a few alarming statistics:
- The top causes of stress are job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation.
- 77% of people report regularly feeling stressed.
- Stress-related healthcare costs employers $300 billion per year in the US.
- Fatigue, headache, upset stomach, and muscle tension are the top reported physical symptoms of stress.
- Stress affects every aspect of our well-being: our body, mind, emotions, and behavior. But stress isn’t all bad; a little bit is good because it keeps us challenged and motivated to overcome it and move forward.
There are two main types of stress, acute, and chronic. Acute stress is also called the “fight or flight” response, where we are faced with a threat and the body adapts by giving us a burst of energy to escape or fight off the threat. Think about the mom who fights off an attacker to protect her child, or outrunning a wild animal, or saving someone from a burning building – these are acts we wouldn’t be able to accomplish without that massive stress response. This is a healthy adaptation and survival mechanism, and involves sudden physical changes including release of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, increased heart rate, inability to properly digest food, faster breathing, and insulin and sugar spikes. After the stressor is removed, the body returns to a normal state.
Chronic stress is essentially smaller yet nearly constant episodes of acute stress, which the body is poorly adapted to. Those changes that happen to the body during acute stress happen here too, but in smaller doses, almost constantly, and never really resolving completely. Over time, this wreaks major havoc on the body. Long-term effects include blood sugar imbalance, cravings, weight gain, immune system problems, gastrointestinal issues, and more.
The bad news is that stress is here to stay. The good news is that you don’t have to allow it to damage your health – you can learn effective stress management techniques. Stress itself really isn’t doing damage; the issues lie in the way we react to it. Good stress management can mean the difference between healthy stress, and debilitating DIStress.
Prevention is key.
Preventing stressful situations in the first place is your first line of defense against stress. That means being mindful of the things that trigger your stress and work to remove them. For example, if someone on social media posts things that make you feel stressed out and upset, block that person!
Plus, it’s really helpful to adapt your environment so that you are better equipped to handle stress when it strikes. For example, it may stress you out when you are running late in the morning. Is it because you can’t find things? Then try to organize your belongings better. Is it because you can’t decide what to wear? Then lay your clothes out the night before.
How can you retrain your brain and become better at managing stress?
- • Remember that your thoughts influence your health and well-being. Keep a journal, talk about your issues with a trusted friend or family member, and make positive thinking a priority in your life.
- • Surround yourself with happy, positive people who encourage you, not suck the life out of you. We are rarely stressed without the input of others. Sometimes we need to change how we interact with people, heal relationships, or completely cut off unhealthy, toxic relationships.
- • Address issues as they arise, rather than procrastinate or waste time. Escaping stress is ok sometimes, but turning to things like alcohol, drugs, gambling, excessive video gaming, and compulsive use of social media are very damaging coping mechanisms.
- • Set up your time and priorities in advance. The more control you have over time, the less you’ll get tripped up over both expected and unexpected stressors.
- • Prioritize your nutrition: eat regular, healthy meals, avoid stress eating or overeating
- • Prioritize exercise: work out at least 3 days a week for an hour, and get outside for a walk every day if possible.
- • Prioritize sleep.
- • Try natural healing methods like meditation, breathing techniques, therapy, and self-help resources.
- • Try de-stressing supplements like l-theanine, ashwaghanda, valerian root, and St. John’s wort.
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