Feeling stressed is a common part of everyday life for most people. Everyone feels stress from time to time, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us to live in that space full time. Identifying your sources of stress and the lifestyle changes necessary to decrease the levels of stress for an improved quality of life and better relationships can help you restore balance in your life.
What Exactly is Stress?
We hear the word stress a lot, but what is it? Stress is the way your body reacts to challenging life demands and pressures. Excessive stress can cause you to feel physical and emotional tension and can impact your physical health.
Temporary stressful times, such as the stress or anxiety you might feel at a one-off work event, when you have a stressful meeting, or when you have to make a presentation at school, are different from chronic, persistent life stress. This extra stress can be very uncomfortable but is less of a threat to our overall mental health than steady, unrelenting stress factors.
Long-term stress, on the other hand, is a health concern as it can activate an imbalance of hormones, neurotransmitters, and nervous system reactions in general. Increased stress levels can affect your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate. The additional release of adrenaline and cortisol can affect the brain and bodily functions.
Stress takes many shapes. Acute stress comes on quickly and goes away just as quickly while chronic stress can last for years.
Symptoms of Stress
Knowing the common symptoms of stress can help you identify if you or someone around you is stressed. Symptoms can be physical, or they can be psychological. Most people have a mix of symptoms from both categories.
Physical symptoms include:
- Digestive issues
- Changes in appetite
- Decreased sex drive
- Sleep trouble
- Muscle tension
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Teeth grinding
- Cold and sweaty hands and feet
Keep in mind, one may only experience a few of these symptoms of stress.
Psychological symptoms include:
- Feeling lonely or isolated
- Lack of concentration or inability to focus
- Memory impairment
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
Now that you know the symptoms of stress and the effect they can have on the body, let’s look at how you can better manage stress in your life.
If you are stressed and suffering from depression, you might lack the motivation to hit the gym or get outdoors. Studies have shown that physical exercise can decrease stress levels and increase self-confidence.
Being constantly sedentary can augment the effects of stress and cause sleep disturbances. This might be especially true if you work a desk job and are constantly sitting with little to no movement during the day.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, you can start with small and gentle activities like walking. You can also choose an activity you enjoy, such as yoga or dance class. You don’t need to spend hours on the treadmill or weightlifting to combat the consequences of stress and improve your stress response.
Make a Self-Care Routine
If you are not making time for yourself, you can easily begin to feel run down and stressed. Making a self-care routine and sticking to it every day or at least every week can make it easier to manage your mood.
Here are some easy examples of a self-care routine that only takes a few minutes:
- Stretching for 15 minutes before bed
- Reading a good book
- Deep breathing exercises
- Taking a warm bath
- Going for a long walk in the sun
- Regular exercise
- Lighting scented candles or using a diffuser with calming scents
- Practicing a hobby
Taking the time to care for yourself is essential. Self-care activities can be anything you enjoy; you don’t have to do the same activity as everyone else. For example, cooking or going for a run can be considered self-care and reward you with numerous health benefits.
Spend Time with People You Love
During extreme stress, you might be more inclined to spend time with yourself and less time with friends and family. Although you might feel like just being alone, this can actually cause you to feel worse as time goes on and impact your mental health.
Social support from the people you love can help you get through stressful times and cope with stress. Make sure you prioritize spending time with people who support you and motivate you.
If you don’t have a good support group, consider joining a sports team or volunteering for a cause that you care about to get some social interaction.
Some stress can be controlled by creating boundaries. For example, you might be very busy with work and other demands, but you still commit to planning events for friends. This can cause you to feel overwhelmed and prevent you from sticking to your self-care routine. Learning to say no when you need to is crucial. If your time is limited, you need to be selective about the plans you agree to, as being too busy can be a major cause of stress.
You might also need to set extra boundaries for people who are a source of stress in your life. If there is a certain relative that makes you feel uncomfortable or anxious, it’s perfectly okay not to attend events where they might be.
If you are having a hard time setting boundaries, consider seeking therapy. Therapy can be an excellent option to talk through your feelings and identify the right boundaries for you.
Spend Time in Nature
Spending more time outdoors is an easy way to decrease stress. Sometimes being in a green space, close to nature, can help regulate mood. Consider going with any friends or family members who would improve the quality of the experience.
Hiking and camping are great ways to spend time outdoors, but you can also take a walk in the sun or go to local places like a park or botanical garden. Aerobic exercises in nature, or simply having a picnic or reading a book during a lunch break can be a great way to escape from stress and set yourself on the path of a healthy life.
Stress can have negative effects on your emotional and physical well-being. Make sure you are aware of the symptoms and get the help you need. Discussing your feelings of anxiety and stress with a mental health professional can give you access to valuable stress management tools and keep mental health conditions at bay.