We’re living through a time of extremely high stress. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, political tensions, and environmental issues, this new decade has been throwing stress-inducing curveballs our way non-stop. Add in the pressures of daily life like bills, work, and school, and it’s no wonder that stress is an increasingly commonplace problem.
Stress, especially long-term stress, can affect your body and mind. Luckily, there are ways to keep your stress levels in check and maintain your physical and mental wellbeing. Keep reading to find out how to handle stress effectively.
What is Stress?
Stress is a physical and psychological reaction that occurs when we face frustrating, challenging, or demanding situations. This response is very useful in the short term to help us deal with problems at hand. For example, stress can help you get out of a dangerous situation or finish a project before the deadline. However, prolonged stress - also known as chronic stress - can be harmful to both your physical and mental health.
What Happens to Our Bodies When We Feel Stress?
Studying the body’s physiological responses is important but complex. Understanding the dynamics that involve stress and the body requires a multidisciplinary approach involving different branches of science, including neurophysiology, endocrinology, and psychology.
Studies have shown that stress produces a high number of physical reactions in the short term. For example, stress can temporarily increase your heart rate and adrenaline levels. Fortunately, these reactions don’t tend to have a long term impact on your health. Chronic stress, on the other hand, can have more serious consequences.
Chronic stress can affect your physical and mental health. The Mayo Clinic divides stress symptoms into three categories: physical, mood, and behavior. Below are the most common effects of stress in each category.
- Physical symptoms:
- Muscle pain or tension
- Back pain
- Libido changes
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sleep cycle changes
- Mood symptoms:
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty focusing
- Behavioral symptoms:
- Dietary changes
- Angry outbursts
- Drug addiction
- Tobacco addiction
- Social isolation
The Best Ways to Eliminate Stress
Stress can be really tough to deal with if not managed well. It’s important to try to avoid stressors that negatively impact your life. There are plenty of ways to decrease your stress levels. We’ll tell you about some of the most common techniques.
Keep in mind: The results of these techniques will vary from person to person. We recommend trying one of these activities and seeing how it works for you. If your stress level doesn’t decrease, don’t despair and keep trying!
Move your body
According to the American Psychological Association, physical exercise can be a great way to cope with stress. Scientists are still researching exactly how it works, but studies have shown that physical activity is an excellent means of reducing stress levels.
Maintain a healthy diet
Chronic stress can have a major impact on diet and your relationship with food. Stress can lead people to eat either more or less. It’s important to be aware of what you eat when you’re stressed out. A healthy, nutritious diet helps keep your body working well, which is essential for maintaining the physical and mental strength necessary to cope with stress.
Create an organization system that works for you and your family
Our surroundings have a huge influence on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Disorganization can often be a significant stressor for some people. If stress is affecting your life, try to create a sustainable system for staying organized that works for your home and your office. Knowing where something is will save you time and give you one less thing to worry and stress about! You don’t have to stop there; keeping a well-organized calendar will help you plan your life better and put your mind at ease.
Drink less caffeine
Caffeine is certainly useful if you need a bit of a pick-me-up in the morning. For many people, drinking coffee or tea is an essential part of starting their day. Unfortunately, caffeine can also prevent proper adenosine absorption, a hormone that promotes feelings of calm. Caffeine also increases cortisol and adrenaline levels, which both contribute to stress.
Get a good night’s sleep…on a nightly basis
Sleep is another determining factor that affects stress levels. Sleep serves many purposes, including regulating the production of cortisol—sometimes referred to as the stress hormone. In other words, sleep deprivation can cause the body to overproduce this hormone and make stress symptoms even worse. Sleeping seven hours or more each night is essential.
Meditation is defined as a set of techniques used for the purpose of promoting an elevated state of consciousness and focusing your attention on just one thing. This millennia-old practice originally intended to help deepen an understanding of life's sacred and mystic forces. Now, meditation is also used to promote a state of calm as well as decrease feelings of stress and anxiety.
Paying full attention to something, sometimes called mindfulness, is a type of meditation where you place undivided focus on your surroundings and avoid thinking about yourself. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic of the University of Massachusetts, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Research has shown that mindfulness is an effective way to reduce stress.
Listen to relaxing music
Music can have a significant physical and emotional impact. Quick rhythms might make you feel more alert or help with concentration. Happy music can make you feel positive and more optimistic about life. Music with slower rhythms calms you down, relaxes your muscles, and helps you loosen up. Try listening to some classical music or other instrumental music (without words) to help decrease your stress.
Breathing is something your body does automatically. In fact, it’s easy to forget you’re even doing it! When you're stressed, your breathing rhythm and pattern changes, which can make you feel more agitated. Fortunately, you can alter your breathing patterns, which has been shown to have positive effects when it comes to stress relief. If you’d like to learn how to do some breathing exercises, check out this step-by-step guide.
Spend more time with your loved ones
Spending time with your loved ones is one of the best and easiest ways to reduce stress. It can bring a sense of satisfaction and mental calm. It’s also a great way to relieve stress because you can discuss what’s on your mind with trustworthy people who care about you. Talking about your emotions and listening to another person’s point of view can help you feel more relaxed. You might even learn some coping mechanisms from them!
Learn to say “no”
Sometimes stress comes from feeling like you’re not in control of yourself. It’s easy to want to make everyone happy, and that can definitely make it hard to say no. However, trying to make everyone happy is impossible and will only leave you feeling exhausted and stressed. Learning how to say no when appropriate and sticking to that boundary will help you take back control of your life and feel more calm.
What’s the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?
Stress and anxiety are closely related, but they’re not interchangeable. Stress is a natural reaction to complicated or challenging situations. Excessive stress can be harmful, but it can also have positive effects if it’s well-managed.
Anxiety is a reaction to stress that causes people to feel incapable of dealing with stressful situations. When stress becomes a chronic problem, it can lead to a person feeling anxious and worried, even when there isn’t a real cause for it.
This is a very important distinction because anxiety can be harder to manage than stress. If you think what you’re going through isn’t just stress and the tips above don’t help, it might be anxiety. In this case, we recommend getting help from a mental health professional.
"Sometimes the Most Productive Thing You Can do is Relax" – Mark Black
Living completely stress-free isn’t a realistic goal in this day and age, but learning how to manage it gives you useful tools to live a full life. We hope these tips help you reduce your stress levels and relax when you need to.
If you want one less thing to worry about, check out our program PODERsalud. When you sign up, you’ll have access to unlimited phone calls or video chats with medical professionals that you, your spouse, and your children under 18 can use for just $10.95 a month. Now that’s a sigh of relief!