Stress is a normal response to dealing with changes and challenges in daily life. In the short term, stress can help you perform better under pressure, but constant stress can pose problems for your health, wellness and quality of life. Stress causes the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as adrenaline, which influences your blood pressure, heart rate, eating habits, sleep patterns, blood sugar levels, fat metabolism and your ability to fight-off illness. Long term stress can also increase your risk of heart attack or stroke and contribute to depression.
Triggers of stress can sometimes seem trivial, the effects stress has on our bodies are not. Stress can leave us feeling uncomfortable, sick, or even in pain, and finding ways to manage it are crucial in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Exercise is one of the most important, economical and easiest things you can do to combat stress. It might seem contradictory but putting your body through physical stress through exercise can relieve mental stress. The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly. Exercise lowers your body’s stress hormones — such as cortisol — in the long run. It also helps release endorphins, which are chemicals that improve your mood and act as natural painkillers. Exercise can also improve your sleep quality, which can be negatively affected by stress and anxiety. When you exercise regularly, you may feel more competent and confident in your body, which in turn promotes mental wellbeing.
Try to find a physical activity you enjoy, such as walking, dancing, lifting weights or yoga. Activities that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be particularly stress relieving.
One way to handle stress is to write things down. While recording what you’re stressed about is one approach, another is jotting down what you’re grateful for. It’s important to focus your thoughts on what’s positive in your life rather than thinking about the things that stress you out and give you anxiety.
Just let your thoughts flow on paper — or computer screen. Once you’re done, you can toss out what you wrote or save it to reflect on later.
Another way to take control of your stress is to stay on top of your priorities and stop procrastinating. Getting organized can eliminate the stress of scrambling to catch up. 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 your immediate attention, and give yourself a deadline to get the little things done.
If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that not all stressors are within your control. Take control over the parts of your life that you can change and are causing you stress. One way to do this may be to say “no” more often. Juggling too many responsibilities can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Be selective of what you take on.
Saying yes may seem like an easy way to keep the peace, prevent conflicts and get the job done right. But it may actually cause you internal conflict, which can lead to stress, anger, resentment and even the desire to exact revenge. And that’s not a very calm and peaceful reaction.
According to studies cuddling, kissing, hugging and sex can all help relieve stress. Positive touch can help release oxytocin and lower cortisol. This can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are physical symptoms of stress.
Get Professional Help
If new stressors are challenging your ability to cope or if self-care measures just aren’t relieving your stress, you may need to look for reinforcements in the form of therapy or counseling. Therapy also may be a good idea if you feel overwhelmed or trapped, if you worry excessively, or if you have trouble carrying out daily routines or meeting responsibilities at work, home or school.
Professional counselors or therapists can help you identify sources of your stress and learn new coping tool.