The Havoc and Healing of Stress

stress facts management tips

With a nickname like “the silent killer”, there’s no denying that stress is a serious issue that should never be underestimated. Stress is commonly referred to as “the silent killer” due to its harmful and oftentimes, unnoticed effects that can lead to all kinds of serious health conditions, such as high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, high blood sugar levels, chest pain, and an irregular heartbeat, to name a few. It is even linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, liver cirrhosis, and suicide. What’s worse is that everyone experiences stress. In the past year alone, up to 80% of people have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope, according to new studies. But stress is treatable, and surprisingly, it really doesn’t take all that much! Just a few simple adjustments to your lifestyle and mindset, and you can easily manage your stress and keep all risks and symptoms at bay. In this article, we cover everything there is to know about stress – from the risks to the remedy.

What Is Stress, Really?

You don’t need to pull out a dictionary to know what stress is because you have likely already experienced it for yourself plenty of times. But have you ever wondered what stress is, on a deeper anatomical level? Well, stress is the body’s response to situational demands or pressures, especially those that are seen as threatening or dangerous. It is an entirely normal response that’s designed to keep you safe from threats and danger. It causes your brain chemicals to surge, which makes you sweat, breathe faster, tense your muscles and ultimately, prepare for action. It’s your body’s built-in alarm system commonly referred to as your fight or flight response. Stress naturally activates this response, and when in small amounts, it is absolutely normal. In fact, stress can help you complete a task, meet a deadline, get prepared for a presentation, be productive, arrive on time, and so on and so forth.

However, when your stress becomes excessive, unreleased or chronic, that’s when it becomes a problem. Unfortunately, this is the type of stress the majority of people experience. In fact, studies found that 74% of people in the UK have felt so stressed in the past year that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. This level of stress puts you at risk for mental, physical and emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, insomnia, stomach problems, a weakened immune system, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, to name a few.  It can also lead to unhealthy behaviours, such as gambling, smoking, alcohol abuse, drug use, overeating, participating compulsively in sex, shopping, internet browsing, etc.

Additionally, prolonged and/or excessive stress can also present a variety of uncomfortable physical, mental and emotional symptoms as well, such as:

Physical Symptoms of Stress

  • Aches and pains
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations or a feeling like your heart is racing
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Jaw clenching
  • Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Digestive problems
  • Sexual health problems
  • Weak immune system

Emotional, Behavioural and Mental Symptoms of Stress

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Panic attacks
  • Sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Moodiness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Constant worrying
  • Decreased personal hygiene
  • Loneliness
  • Nervous habits, such as foot tapping and nail-biting
  • Decline in performance
  • Neglect of responsibilities
  • Inability to relax
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Isolation or withdrawal from friends and family

These symptoms can also be used to help you determine if you’re experiencing chronic or excessive stress. The good news is that you can erase these stressful symptoms simply by using stress management techniques and proper self-care. However, if you feel like you have too much stress happening in your life and are unable to cope or manage it, seek help from a trained specialist, whether it’s your primary care doctor or a therapist.

Causes of Stress

Stress can be different for everyone. What stresses you out may not even make your best friend or family member blink and vice versa. Some people also handle stressful situations better than others or have better stress management that allows them to cope with daily stresses. However, stress is typically the result of a person feeling overly pressured and there is a threat to their wellbeing or a lack of resources to cope. Some common causes of stress that typically have a negative impact regardless of the individual are:

  • Getting bullied
  • Working too hard
  • Job loss
  • Relationship or marriage problems
  • Breakups or a divorce
  • Death of a loved one
  • Overwhelming responsibilities
  • Difficulties in school
  • Traumatic experience
  • Busy schedule
  • Family problems

Positive situations can also lead to excessive stress, such as getting married, buying a house, getting a work promotion and having a child.

Now, stress is a normal part of life that everyone experiences. What makes “normal stress” unhealthy and potentially dangerous is the frequency and duration in which it’s experienced. This can be different for each person as well, and numerous factors can cause stress to worsen. For example, if you recently lost your job and then experienced a breakup and then had a fight with a family member, and then… and then… and then… The buildup of stressful events can quickly make a hard situation unbearable. Some additional factors that can make stress worse for people are:

  • Limited social support
  • Difficulties regulating emotions
  • Multiple stressors
  • Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression
  • Struggles with tolerating uncertainty
  • Low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence (not feeling like they can cope with the stressor)
  • Trauma
  • Feeling powerless

Stress Management 101

As powerful as stress can be, it doesn’t have to have a negative impact on your life and overall wellbeing. With regular self-care and stress management, you can reduce and properly manage stress so that it doesn’t become overwhelming and detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Simply taking care of yourself by eating well, exercising regularly, getting sufficient sleep, limiting alcohol and caffeine, avoiding drugs and cigarettes and reducing negativity in your life (and mind) can have a drastic improvement on the way you feel. These things can also act as a great repellent for stress.

Some other things you can do to decrease the negative impact stress has on your life and health include:

  • Prioritize, organize and delegate tasks to decrease the overwhelm tasks have on you
  • Seek support from family and friends or a support group
  • Recognize your triggers and find ways to avoid them (For example, if having too many things on your schedule causes you overwhelming stress, prioritize giving yourself free time)
  • Avoid taking on too much and be more forgiving when you don’t get everything done
  • Cut back or avoid things that you use to help you relax but that are actually making you more anxious, such as alcohol and tobacco use
  • Have regular “me time” where you do something for you and that you enjoy
  • Create a to-do list to set you up for the next day
  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively
  • Say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life
  • Make time for hobbies and interests
  • Have the same level of compassion for yourself as you would others if they were in the same or similar situation as you
  • Take a daily 20-minute walk to get some fresh air and exercise
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive ones (start with thinking you can do this!)
  • Pay attention to your inner voice and avoid negative self-talk and positive self-talk
  • Eat more stress-reducing foods, such as:
    • Foods high in vitamin B (beef, chicken, eggs, cereal, etc.)
    • Foods high in omega-3 (avocados, chia seeds, flax seeds, salmon, olive oil, tuna, walnuts, etc.)
    • Foods rich in magnesium (avocados, bananas, broccoli, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, spinach, etc.)
    • Foods rich in protein (almonds, chicken, eggs, beef, peanuts, turkey, tuna, etc.)
    • Gut-healing foods (Greek yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, etc.)
  • Do some yoga (The ones that focus on slow movement, stretching and deep are best types of yoga for lowering stress and anxiety
  • Use deep breathing during times of high stress and to turn on your body’s natural ability to relax
  • Quiet your mind after each day using meditation, deep breathing, guided imagery or other relaxation techniques
  • Improve your quality of sleep at night and aim to get at least 8 hours of restful sleep by:
    • Cut down on caffeine during the day
    • Avoid screen time before you go to bed
    • Use lavender or chamomile in tea, room sprays, essential oils, etc.
    • Take a melatonin supplement
  • Set a “worry time” for 15 minutes each day where you can get all of your daily stress and worries out of your mind
  • Shake the stress out. Move your limbs, blow your lips and shake your head from side to side and physically release that tension

It doesn’t take much for daily stress to quickly become overwhelming and chronic. Practicing regular self-care can help you manage stress and navigate stressful situations better, so you can decrease those symptoms and reduce your risk of developing potentially serious health complications related to untreated, prolonged stress.

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