We hear a lot in the media today about getting exercise and eating right. We hear about body positivity and loving the skin you’re in. What we don’t hear about is stress. Did you know that stress is one of your biggest barriers to getting what you want in your life? That’s because stress is causing you through physically and mentally and the longer you allow it to take control of your body, the worse it’s going to continue to get. That’s why it’s crucial that you understand what stress is doing to you as soon as possible, before something serious happens.
What is Stress?
The first thing to note is that stress is not always a bad thing. In general, stress is considered the natural body response to situations that we don’t feel completely ready for. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing. And actually, positive stress is referred to as eustress and this is actually a motivating factor and helps you to achieve the goals and things that you want in your life.
In small doses, stress encourages you to do better, to work harder, and to achieve anything. Studies even show that it can help improve your focus as well as your recall. The problem comes in when your stress levels start to get too high or when you’re feeling stressed too frequently. At that point, eustress becomes an unhealthy form of stress.
Negative stress occurs when we start feeling overwhelmed or we feel like we’re at the bottom of a hole with no way out. When there’s no relief mixed in with your episodes of stress it becomes extremely unhealthy, such as the person who is always stressed at their job or the person who feels like they can never get through a situation.
The Symptoms and Side Effects of Stress
When you’re feeling stressed you will generally have some or all of these symptoms, which could vary in intensity.
- Upset Stomach
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Trouble Sleeping
- Chest Pain
- High Blood Pressure
- Panic Attacks
- Aches and Pains
- Muscle Tension
- Cold/Sweaty Palms
- Racing Heart
- Loss/Increase of Appetite
- Grinding Teeth
- Weight Gain/Loss
All of these are just the immediate effects that you know the stress is having. These are the things that you can feel yourself. But there are other things that are going on beneath the surface that can also be caused by stress.
The Health Effects of Stress
When it comes down to it, stress can cause or exacerbate just about any health condition you could possibly think of and that’s a terrifying thought. If you’re already suffering from a health condition the last thing you want is something that’s going to make it even worse, right? But if you’re allowing yourself to feel stressed all the time, or even some of the time, you could be setting yourself up for trouble, especially since stress is directly linked to six of the leading causes of death (Slmainc).
- Heart Disease
- Asthma/Lung Problems
- Cirrhosis of the Liver
Other health conditions that could be exacerbated or even caused because of stress include:
- Gastrointestinal Problems
- Accelerated Aging
- Premature Death (by causes other than suicide/accident)
In fact, stress is the result of approximately 110 MILLION people every year according to the CDC (Slmainc). And that’s only people who die as a direct result of stress, not people who have other elevated symptoms because of the stress. The good thing is, there’s hope for you even if you feel stressed to the max right now. There are plenty of things that you can (and should) do right now to decrease your level of stress.
Decreasing Your Levels of Stress
After reading all of that you’re probably thinking that it’s time you make some changes in your life, but you might not now just how to do it. Luckily, improving your health and wellness is the key to decreasing stress and it’s not as difficult as you might think. It’s about improving how well you take care of yourself both inside and out, because that’s actually going to reduce the levels of stress that you experience.
Your body actually feels more stressed when it’s stretched to the limits. When you take advantage of your body and assume that it’s going to take care of you without any help or input from you it’s causing you a whole lot more harm than you might think. The important thing is that now you know that stress is highly dangerous, and you’re going to be better prepared for it when it comes your way.
When it comes to health we’re talking about a combination of factors that contribute to getting your body in the best shape possible. That’s going to include things like getting enough exercise, eating right and thinking positively. After all, being in great shape is about more than just your physical body, it’s about your mental health as well.
Think about this, when you’re tired you don’t perform as well as when you’re energized, right? That’s because your body isn’t fully prepared to deal with the things that are coming at it. When you feel well rested it’s because your body is operating at optimum levels and it’s ready to do whatever you ask of it (within reason, of course). Getting exercise helps build up your strength, your endorphins, your drive and more. It physically prepares you. Eating right helps your body get the nutrients that it needs to fuel all of those things. And then we have mental health.
Your mental health is about thinking positively and about believing in yourself. Thinking negative thoughts is only going to bring you down. Thinking positive thoughts is going to help you feel better about yourself and the world around you. Mental health can also refer to paying attention to what causes you stress and what causes you to feel relaxed and rested. Your mind will let you know what it wants and needs, if you’re willing to listen to it.
Your Best Stress Response
Now that we’ve talked about what it takes to have a healthy mind and body, let’s take a look at some of the things that you should be doing when you do experience stress (because it’s going to happen). First, we’ll take a look at some of the physical responses that you want to have toward stress, not the ones that you’re simply allowing to happen.
1. Take a Walk – When you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed this is a great time to take a walk. If you can get outside to a park, even better, but walking even in your office will give you some benefits. Walking away from whatever is causing you stress allows your body to relax because it realizes you’re not in a fight or flight situation. Your mind stops racing, you’re able to burn off some of that stored energy, and you have time to just breathe and take your mind off the problem for even a few minutes.
2. Find Something Else – Along the same lines of trying to get your mind off the problem is doing something else entirely. We’re not talking about another work project that’s going to stress you out yet again. Rather, participate in some type of hobby. It doesn’t matter if you’re sketching at your desk or you’re doing yoga or reading a book or anything at all. Find something that you like doing that gets your mind off of everything else that you have to do throughout the day. Just participating in a fun hobby for 10-15 minutes can make a huge difference in your mood and your stress level. That’s why you have that hobby, right?
3. Get Enough Sleep – This one isn’t going to work as an immediate method to relieve stress, but it will help you over time. If you’re getting enough sleep you’re going to feel better going into each day and you actually have a lower chance of experiencing stress throughout the day. All it takes is getting that 8-10 hours, which is definitely worth it, right? So, if you find yourself getting stressed every day, find a way to make sure you get at least 8 hours of sleep every night, and work your way from there.
Next up, let’s take a look at some of the mental aspects of your health and your stress response. You might be surprised how you can decrease your stress when you’re simply sitting still, but it’s a whole lot easier than you might think.
1. Meditate – Be honest, you knew this one was coming, right? Meditation can help to release endorphins in the body in similar ways to physical exercise, and it’s a natural way to relieve your stress. You don’t have to meditate for a long time to get the benefits either. Even just 5-10 minutes can help you. So sit down (in whatever position you’re most comfortable in, you don’t have to sit cross-legged) and close your eyes. Focus on breathing in slowly and breathing out slowly. If you can’t focus only on your breathing then focus on a single word or phrase (a positive one) that you can repeat over and over. Don’t let any other thoughts enter your mind during this time and you’ll be able to slowly relax.
2. Voice Your Opinions – When you sit quiet for too long and let other people tell you what to do and how to do it you can get frustrated and that frustration definitely leads to stress. So take the opportunity to express yourself and your opinions. That doesn’t mean you get a free pass to be mean or rude to people. But it means that you can (and should) start speaking up on your own behalf. If you’re too busy for something then say so. If you don’t want to go then decline (politely, please). Saying yes to everything is not helping your stress. It’s making things worse.
3. Talk to Someone – Maybe you have a friend or a partner that you can talk to about what you’re experiencing. Maybe you want to talk to a professional. No matter how you decide to do it, you want to have someone that you can discuss your thoughts and feelings with who has no vested interest and isn’t going to get offended. You get to decide who that person actually is.
Building Up After Burn-Out
Have your feelings of overwhelm just gotten so much in your way that you’re now feeling burned out? Maybe you’ve been on that path of stress so long that it’s made you completely disenchanted with everything, even those things that you used to love doing or a job you used to enjoy. If that’s the case then it’s definitely time to start looking at ways to get yourself back where you want to be. Luckily, the ways that you overcome burnout are pretty much the same ways you’re going to overcome stress (because likely your burnout comes from stress).
1. Get plenty of exercise
2. Get plenty of sleep
3. Eat right
4. Drink lots of water
5. Focus on thinking positive
6. Just say no
Of course, there are a few more extreme ways that you can work on your burnout (and your stress). If you really need a jump start and you’re not sure how to get there, you want to start with these:
- Go on vacation (and leave your cares behind)
- Reevaluate your personal goals (and what you want in life)
- Understand the meaning behind your work (and what value you place on it)
The best thing you can do if you’re experiencing stress or burn-out is to start working on your health and wellness. Where stress is a killer of millions every year, improving your health and wellness is the number one way that you can combat that stress. When you’re talking about your life, it seems like an easy choice to make, don’t you think?
By: Anthony Mendez
Slmainc. (2017, February 20). The Science of STRESS. Retrieved from http://www.slma.cc/the-science-of-stress/