Stress is seemingly unavoidable in life, especially in today’s non-stop society. From the mounting pressure of a demanding workload to the emotional strain of a sick loved one, stress shows up in a variety of forms and at any time.
Stress negatively impacts your day-to-day life. While stress is unlikely to ever disappear completely, you can learn to manage your stress. With proper techniques and professional resources, learn to cope with stress and improve your overall mental health and well-being.
Potential Sources of Stress
There are many different elements in life that cause stress, varying from person to person. Forty percent of the American workforce reports that their jobs contribute to their daily stress, with nearly 25 percent of those ranking it as the number one source.
Different life experiences also cause huge amounts of stress for some. Life stresses include divorce, job loss, taking care of a sick loved one, death, a natural disaster and other major life events that affect a person’s daily life. The political climate is also a source of stress for many U.S. citizens.
There are also internal factors that contribute to one’s overall stress level. These include fear and uncertainty about a multitude of different topics, from natural disasters to terrorist attacks, as well as attitudes and perceptions about how one views the world.
Other contributing factors include unrealistic expectations set by an individual or someone close to the individual. Also, change is one of the biggest factors of stress. Change can be a new job, marriage, loss of a loved one or financial problem.
Effects of Stress
The way someone handles stress varies from person to person, but the body responds in a similar manner. Stress can make your heart beat faster, make you breathe rapidly or make you sweat uncontrollably. Stress can also cause your muscles to tense up, as well as give you a sudden rush of energy that leads to impulsive decision making. Stress can also impact your sex drive and sleep cycle, and can cause chest pain, upset stomach and fatigue. These are all common side effects of stress on the body.
In addition to its influence on the body, stress also impacts one’s mood. Common effects of stress on one’s mood include anxiety, restlessness, lack of focus or motivation, irritability or anger, feeling overwhelmed, depression and sadness.
The toll stress takes on a person can also unknowingly trickle down into his or her everyday behavior. Stress can show up as overeating or under eating, be the source of angry outbursts and contribute to drug and alcohol problems, as well as tobacco use. Stress often causes one to withdraw from his or her friends, family and hobbies he or she once enjoyed.
It is important to take note of these effects in case you begin to notice them in yourself or a loved one. Understanding and recognizing the effects of stress are among the first steps to seek help and learn how to reduce the physical and mental pressure.
Physical Stress Relief
Exercising is one of the top ways that experts recommend for battling stress. On average, studies show that people who exercise are less anxious and feel less depressed than those who do not exercise on a regular basis. Exercise helps lower the body’s stress hormones. One of the biggest benefits of exercise as a means to combat stress is the release of endorphins that come when one is physically active. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals in the body that boost an individual’s mood. Regular exercise can also provide a confidence boost.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 14 percent of people use regular exercise to help them manage their stress. Among that group, 29 percent said walking was their favorite way to relieve physical tension from stress, followed by running at 20 percent and yoga at 11 percent. Regular exercise works against most of the effects of stress. For example, physical stress relief in the form of exercise can help you improve your overall cognitive function, reduce fatigue and improve concentration.
Sleep also helps you reduce physical stress. One of the best ways to get a good night’s rest is to exercise each day for as little as five to 10 minutes. Start in small increments and work your way up to a comfortable pace when exercising. You should start to find that you are sleepier when it’s time for bed because of how much movement you got in during the daytime hours. Aerobic exercise like cardio, yoga and strength training are among the top three best exercises for sleep.
Mental Stress Relief
Your mind is home to all of your thoughts and when stress starts to creep in, it can take a serious toll on your mental well-being. To relieve your mental stress, consider sitting in a quiet room to meditate. Spend 10-15 minutes sitting on the floor, keeping your spine straight and your legs crossed or extended out in front of you. This allows you to clear your thoughts in a safe and peaceful environment.
Another technique to relieve mental stress is to take deep breaths. Sit alone with your eyes closed, taking deep breaths as you inhale and exhale. Breathing deeply helps lower your heart rate and blood pressure, which tend to tick up during periods of stress
Sometimes relieving your mental load is as simple as slowing down and being in the moment. Between busy jobs and demanding family lives, it can be easy to move from moment to moment without being mindful of your feelings. Take a few minutes to yourself and focus on what you are thankful for. This short exercise should help your mind feel at ease.
A hot bath or warm compress also helps relax your mind. The heat works to relieve pressure in the body, which can in turn free your mind of stress and anxiety. Relaxation is crucial to living a stress-free life. Listening to your favorite song, having a hearty belly laugh, spending time with a dog or cat and taking a few minutes to count your blessings are also among some of the top ways you can help put your mind at ease.
Resources for Stress Reduction
To cope with stress, put yourself ahead of others in your life. This can include eating healthy meals, regular exercise, plenty of sleep and cutting yourself slack when the going gets tough. If you are still feeling bogged down by stress, it is important that you seek help. Coping with stress is not easy and should not be done alone. If you are not sure where to turn, start by confiding in a close friend, loved one, therapist or other mental health professional.
If you are looking to learn more about ways to reduce your stress, visit a bookstore or your local library and browse through the self-help section. You will find an assortment of mental health and psychology books authored by experts in the field that offer suggestions of how to manage and reduce your stress load.
Talking about your feelings and the stressors in your life may bring a great deal of relief to you. You may find comfort in local support and therapy groups where others are dealing with similar issues and experiencing many of the same feelings as you are. If an in-person group therapy session makes you uncomfortable — and that is OK — you may find solace in online communities, as well as real-life blogs from others who understand what you are going through.
There are also crisis hotlines you can turn to for additional support. Some of the top organizations are the Disaster Distress Helpline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Youth Mental Health Line and Child-Help USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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