Encountering stress in day-to-day life is inevitable. According to prevailing research, your body’s fight-or-flight response evolved to heighten your awareness amid dangerous or challenging circumstances, allowing you to act quickly when the need arises. In other words, without stress, humankind might have died out centuries ago.
Some stress is beneficial, but chronic stress can take a toll on your health and well-being. In observance of Stress Awareness Month this April, what should you understand about the effects of stress and its impact on your life?
What Is Stress?
Stress is your brain’s method for dealing with any perceived threat. A flood of stress hormones can create physical symptoms such as sweating, increased heart rate and faster breathing. The fight-or-flight response can make you spring into action before you have a chance to consciously process what you’re doing. It could save your life if you need to make split-second decisions, such as swerving suddenly to avoid a car accident. However, your body might also overreact to risks that don’t endanger you, such as a traffic jam or an upcoming job interview.
While brief intervals of stress are not harmful, chronic stress can lead to severe health issues, including heart disease, hypertension, depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders. Some high-pressure professions are more likely to contribute to chronic stress. You may also be more prone to developing chronic stress if you lack appropriate coping mechanisms to help you relax.
Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress
One way to manage stress is to put a positive spin on the circumstances that make you feel nervous or anxious. For example, if worries about a forthcoming presentation at work are keeping you up at night, mentally reframe it as a chance to showcase your expertise about the topic. Reassure yourself that the time and effort you put into researching and preparing your remarks will shine through.
Consider these additional stress-relief techniques you can use.
- Journaling: Keeping a journal of your stressors and how you responded to them can help you spot behavioral patterns and emotional ups and downs.
- Self-care: Making time each day for activities like exercise or being in nature will improve your outlook and combat negativity.
- Meditation: Bringing more mindfulness to your life can help ground you and teach you to live in the moment.
- Deep breathing: Breath control exercises mimic your body’s natural relaxation response, calming you down and sharpening your focus.
- Yoga: You might already know that the time-honored practice of yoga is beneficial for strengthening your musculoskeletal system and improving your flexibility and mobility. It can also help you learn breath control, focus and intention-setting skills.
- Set limits: Establishing boundaries with others can reduce stress because it will teach you to be more assertive.
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