While there are times when stress can act as a motivating force that promotes the exertion of extra effort in hopes of meeting a goal, the reality is that stress is often negative. Primarily, it can be severely damaging when an individual experiences high stress levels over an extended period of time. Luckily, there are ways you can take arms amid a sea of stressors to decrease their intensity before they become a chronic issue.
Since April is Stress Awareness Month, the time of year when health care professionals across the nation unite to increase stress awareness, now is the perfect time to further your understanding about how stress manifests itself, its effects and how you can reduce it.
Causes and Effects of Stress
If you’ve ever felt nervous during a horror film or noticed your palms are sweaty during an important presentation, you have experienced stress within your mind and body. Stress is an automatic human reaction, which was cultivated over time as a means of ensuring awareness of and the protection against serious threats.
When we are faced with a threat, the body’s hormones boost your heart rate, blood pressure and even your energy levels, so that you can deal with what is causing you stress. Nowadays, people might face several difficulties throughout their day, such as adhering to work deadlines, dealing with financial obligations and trying to strike a balance between work- and family-related responsibilities.
Unfortunately, these everyday challenges can increase stress levels dramatically. No matter whether your stress is short lived or extended, it can have a serious impact on your overall health.
Results of Stress
Minor levels of stress include getting a sick feeling in your stomach before a presentation or being nervous before a first date. More severe forms of acute stress might result due to a fight with a loved one, or a shocking event such as natural disaster or an assault. While the initial shock might be short term, forms of major acute stress can have a lasting impact on a person.
Research has indicated these events can result in the development of emotional stressors, which can trigger panic and heart attacks, and even sudden death. Sadly, many people don’t realize the impact of acute stress until it causes a severe reaction.
When stress begins to impede your capacity to live your life for a prolonged period of time, it may become an even larger threat to your safety and well-being. As stress continues, your mind and body will suffer at a continuous rate. This may cause you to feel worn out, irritable and unable to focus. Many with chronic stress are also at risk for developing depression if they don’t learn to deal with stress as time goes on.
Extended stress can also make already existing physical issues, such as minor headaches, even worse. Chronic levels of stress might also cause you to disregard your health in favor of unhealthy habits offering immediate relief from prolonged symptoms of stress.
Habits such as smoking, overeating and excessive drinking can wreak havoc on a person’s mind and body and lead to serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. Once you are ill, stress can make it harder to reach a full recovery.
Tips for Handling the Mental Effects of Stress
Determine what exactly is causing stress by paying close attention to your thoughts throughout the day. Take time to sit down and write down your thoughts when you feel yourself getting stressed.
When you figure out what the source of the stress is, you can cultivate a plan to address it head on. This may mean asking for help with household chores and work projects, or establishing different expectations for yourself or for those around you. If you can, try making a list all of your day-to-day commitments and cross off any unnecessary tasks to lighten your load.
Taking steps to decrease your stress levels can not only promote a stronger sense of well-being in the short term, but it may shield your health in the long term as well. Methods of decreasing stress include:
Build Fulfilling Relationships
While relationships can be a serious cause of stress, they can also act as stress reducers. Allow yourself to confide in your close friends and family to let them know you are struggling. Oftentimes, speaking with loved ones can comfort us during the moments we feel the as if we are at a loss.
Reduce Anger Levels
If you experience high levels of anger that cause enhanced stress levels, allow yourself to walk away and count to 10 before you react to something infuriating. Engaging in walking and other types of exercise can also help you reduce stress-inducing anger levels, so you might want to consider making some form of physical activity part of your daily routine.
Get the Right Amount of Sleep
Stress can keep anyone up at night, but making sure you get enough sleep is instrumental in reducing stress levels. Tips for helping you achieve eight hours of sleep each night include:
- Limit your caffeine intake.
- Engage in exercise during the day.
- Go to bed at the same time each night.
- Reducing your use of electronics close to bedtime.
Refrain from Unhealthy Habits
It can be easy for those struggling with stress to find coping methods within the use of nicotine, junk food, caffeine and alcohol. However, picking up these habits to reduce stress can result in long-term dependence and may lead to severe health ailments, such as weight problems, illnesses and addiction.
If none of these strategies help decrease the amount of stress in your life, you might want to think about consulting a mental health professional – such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or a social worker – to assist you in addressing the problem. Experts can help get to the root of your stress and will work with you to find the optimal stress-management techniques for your circumstances.