What is Stress? Stress is the body’s reaction to a harmful situation, whether this harm is real or perceived. Stress prepares your body for danger. When you are stressed your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, your muscles tighten, and your blood pressure rises. This happens in preparation for your fight-or-flight response.
Not all stress is bad. Stress can protect you from harmful situations and motivate. However, when stress is chronic, it becomes a problem. Chronic stress can cause physiological and emotional complications.
Physiological symptoms of stress include, but are not limited to:
-Sleep disturbances -Headaches -Stomach aches -Chest pain
-Muscle tension -Frequent infections -Dry mouth -Inability to focus
-Clenched jaw and teeth grinding -Forgetfulness and disorganization -Poor judgement
-Changes in eating patterns -Increase risk for stroke -Increase risk for heart attack
-Skin and hair problems
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
-Nervousness -Anxiety -mood swings -Difficulty relaxing -Low self-esteem
So what can you do to help reduce chronic stress?
1. Identify the source of your stress-Is your stress being caused by work demands or your procrastination of these demands?
-Do you explain away stress as temporary? “My stress will go away once this project is done. I’ll relax when it is over.”
-Do you think stress is a normal state of being?
Once you are able to identify your source of stress and accept how you may be creating or maintaining this stress, you will begin to control this stress.
2. Identify coping techniques you currently use-even if something may bring temporary relief from stress, it does not mean it is a healthy way to cope with stress.
Some unhealthy ways to cope with stress include:
- Drugs and alcohol
- Food binging or restricting
- Zoning out for hours in front of the television
- Withdrawing from people
- Sleeping too much
- Lashing out at others
3. Come up with Healthier ways to manage stress.
Some ideas are:
- Exercise-it can be as simple as walking down the street
- Engage Socially-talking to someone about your problems releases hormones that reduce stress.
- Crank up music and sing at the top of your lungs.
- Keep a grateful Journal.
- Do something you enjoy.
- Read a book or watch a comedy.
- Taking a bath.
- Call a friend.
- Work in the Garden.
4. Follow the 4 A’s: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, and Accept
- Avoid stressors- Know your limits and learn to say no when your limits are being exceeded. Reduce time spent with those who stress you out, and take control of the situation if possible.
- Alter the situation-Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. Compromise with others. Manage your own time better.
- Adapt-Re-frame your problems and look at them in a different light. Look at the big picture. (Is the thing you are stressing over going to matter in a week, a month, ten years?). Adjust your standards. You are not perfect; stop stressing over it.
- Accept- Look for the positive. Stop trying to control the things you can’t. Learn to forgive those who are stressful or have done something to stress you out.
5. Make time for fun and relaxation.
Make an effort daily to set aside time to relax. Don’t let anyone or anything take this time away from you.
Do something you enjoy daily.
6. Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
- Eat a healthy diet, reduce caffeine and sugar intake.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs- you may receive temporary relief from stress from these sources, but you are not facing your stressor, you are ignoring it. In the long run alcohol and drugs will increase stress instead of reduce it.
- Get enough sleep.
Food that help reduce stress:
- Black Tea
If you’d like more information or ideas to reduce stress, visit these pages: