Why is it so bad for you?
Who isn’t stressed out? It seems like everywhere you turn, there is a new demand placed on you. Some of the burdens are part of your regular routine, such as your job, family, and friends. Others could be large amounts of stress from losing a job, divorce, or illness. So, how do you cope with all of it?
Stress is our body’s reaction to a harmful situation. This situation can be real or perceived. When we feel that we are being threatened, our body starts a chemical reaction that activates our “fight or flight” response. This is extremely beneficial in life threatening situations. It is also beneficial in small doses because it allows us to focus on the tasks at hand to accomplish them. So, our body is designed to handle small amounts of stress on a short-term basis. The problem is when stress is ongoing and becomes a chronic issue that our body has to deal with regularly. Chronic stress can present in a variety of ways:
Moody, easily agitated, feeling overwhelmed, low self-esteem, unable to relax
Low energy, headaches, upset stomach, insomnia, frequent illness, low sex drive
Constant worrying, forgetful, disorganized, can’t focus, poor judgement
Appetite changes, procrastination, increased alcohol/drugs/cigarette use
These are just a few of the examples of what chronic stress can cause. Not only does it present its own challenges, but it can also cause or exacerbate many serious health problems. Some of the main ones of concern are heart disease, eating disorders, acne, gastric reflux, anxiety, and depression. Please see Fasts Facts for a list of symptoms caused by stress.
Treatment & Prevention
When treating or preventing chronic stress, it is important to focus not only the stress, but the symptoms that are caused by it. This might mean seeking help for any medical problems that have been exacerbated. In order to address stress, you should first try to identify what is causing you to feel this way. Once you have the cause (and it might be more than one), you can devise a plan to help reduce the amount of stress you have and implement ways to cope.
There are two different strategies to coping. One is helping to manage stress and this is done by regular exercise, sleeping the appropriate amount, eating healthy, socializing with family/friends and making time to do things you enjoy, such as hobbies. The other coping technique is to help you in the moment when you start to feel overwhelmed by a situation to use relaxation techniques. There are various methods, like meditation, to help calm you down. These aren’t designed to take long, but to provide a momentary pause in order to allow you to regain your focus.
In the event that something is beyond your control and you feel that you can’t handle it, seek the advice of a mental health professional. Not only can they provide professional insight, you will feel better talking about your challenges and having an engaged listener. Their goal isn’t to eliminate your stress, but to help you find ways to work through it successfully. There are stressful moments and events in life, you are not alone and will get through it. For further information about stress, please visit the American Psychological Association at https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/index.html or The American Institute of Stress at www.stress.org