We live in a fast-paced world, and while chronic stress is common, it takes a toll on your mind and body. Stress doesn’t always have to be negative though. It can also help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you constantly run in emergency mode and feel overwhelmed and frazzled, it’s time to take charge and bring your nervous system back into balance.
By learning how to recognize the symptoms and signs of chronic stress, you can take steps to reduce its harmful effects and improve how you think and feel.
Exactly What is Stress?
Stress is most commonly defined as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.”
Stress is the way your body responds to any kind of threat or demand. The body’s defenses kick into high gear whenever you sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined. This rapid, automatic process is known as the “stress response” or the “flight-or-fight” reaction.
Stress response is your body’s way of protecting you. Stress can even save your life in emergency situations. For example, it can give you the strength you need to defend yourself or prompt you to slam on your brakes or swerve in order to avoid a car accident.
When it’s working properly, stress helps you stay alert and energetic so you can meet the challenges you face. It’s what keeps you focused during a work presentation, increases your concentration so you can score the game-winning point, or pushes you to study for a test when you’d rather be doing something else. Beyond a certain point, though, stress is no longer helpful. Instead, it can cause major damage to your health, productivity, mood, relationships, and even negatively affect your quality of life.
What are the Most Common Triggers of Stress?
The pressures and situations that cause stress are known as “stressors.” Anything that puts high demands on you can cause stress, even if it’s not something negative.
Positive events can cause stress – getting married, having a baby, buying a house, or getting your dream job are just a few examples.
Not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can be self-generated or internal when you excessively worry about something that might not even happen or if you have pessimistic and irrational thoughts about life.
At least in part, what causes stress is your perception of it. And just how much stress is “too much” is different for each person. Some people are able to roll with the punches life throws and can even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle. Others may crumble when faced with small obstacles or frustrations. Stress can cause wide-spread damage though, so it’s important to know your own limit.
Common External Stressors:
- Work or school
- Major life changes
- Financial problems
- Children and family
- Relationship issues
- Being too busy
Common Internal Stressors:
- Lack of flexibility or rigid thinking
- Negative self-talk
- Perfectionist or unrealistic expectations
- All-or-nothing attitude
- Inability to accept the unknown
6 Ways to Manage Stress
Whatever situation or event is causing you to feel stress, there are things you can do to cope with the problem and regain your balance. Here are six ways you can improve your ability to handle stress:
- Get Moving – One of the best ways to help you relieve stress and feel better is to increase your activity level. Regular exercise is a proven way to lift your mood, clear your head, and distract you from worries. It allows you to break the cycle of negative thoughts that feed the stress you’re feeling. Walking, swimming, running, and dancing are very effective options, especially if you are mindful while you do them and focus your attention on the physical sensations you’re feeling as you move.
- Make Connections – Talking face-to-face with another person triggers hormones that help relieve stress whenever you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Friendliness and encouraging words can soothe and calm your nervous system. So, boost your mood by spending time with people you care about, and don’t let your responsibilities prevent you from having a social life. If your relationships are the cause of your stress, or if you don’t have close relationships, focus on building stronger and more fulfilling connections.
- Learn to Relax – Unfortunately, you can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how it affects you. Use relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to activate your body’s relaxation response. These activities, when practiced regularly, help reduce your stress levels, increase feelings of tranquility and joy, and allow you to stay calm under pressure.
- Engage Your Senses – A quick way to relieve stress is to engage one or more of your senses. First determine which sensory input works best for you – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, or movement. Does the smell of coffee make you feel calm? Or listening to music? Maybe petting an animal helps you relax and feel at peace? Since everyone responds differently to sensory input, experiment to find which one works best for you.
- Get Rest – Feelings of stress increase when you’re tired and lack of sleep may cause you to have irrational thoughts. Unfortunately, chronic stress can also disrupt sleep. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, there are many ways to improve your sleep so you can feel less stressed and more emotionally balanced and productive.
- Eat a Healthy Diet – Did you know that the food you eat has the potential to affect your mood and your ability to cope with life’s stress? Symptoms of stress worsen when you eat a diet full of processed food, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. You’re better able to cope with the ups and downs of life when you eat fresh fruit and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, and high-quality protein.
Since chronic stress has been linked to many health issues, it’s important to practice regular stress management techniques to keep it under control. By doing so, you can eliminate some of the stress you currently feel while also making yourself more resilient to future stress. At Seton Cove, we believe in the power of living a balanced life. Contact us today for more information on the programs we offer to help you manage the stress in your life.