What is Stress? In our increasingly fast-paced world, people of all ages experience stress. Stress is the response to a perceived demand, internal or external, on our mind, body or emotions. Stress may also be defined as the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change. Many different things can trigger these responses, especially change. Whether a change is significant or not, it may cause stress in a person. In a nationwide poll of 2,500 adults, nearly half report having experienced a major stressful event in the past year, and over one-fourth of the same group said that they had a “great deal” of stress at the time of being surveyed.
Importance of Coping with Stress
Not all stress is bad stress, as the reactions in our bodies created by stress can help save us from dangerous or negative situations. For instance, the body’s reaction to an oncoming car would typically cause a driver to act quickly and move the vehicle out of the way to avoid being hit. However, chronic stress, or stress that results when a stressful situation persists for a long time, can have negative consequences on mental, physical and emotional health. Some of the consequences of chronic stress may be short-term ailments or conditions such as headaches, digestive issues, sleeplessness or irritability. Also, people under stress may be more prone to viral infections like the common cold or the flu. Other consequences of chronic stress may be long-term, serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or anxiety disorder. Because of the link between stress and our health, and since stress may be unavoidable at times, is important to be aware of methods or techniques to cope with stress.
Methods for Coping with Stress
The first step in coping with stress is recognizing the signs that you may be experiencing stress. Signs that you may be stressed include difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, poor concentration, being easily angered, feeling depressed and having low energy.
In order to help your body control stress, practice general healthy habits every day such as:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep each night
- Getting at least thirty minutes of exercise on five different days each week
- Moderating caffeine intake
- Keeping in touch with friends or loved ones who are sources of emotional support
- Obtaining proper healthcare
In addition to practicing healthy, stress-reducing habits regularly, there are some specific coping techniques that may help you during times of greater stress.
- Time-out your worries. When you are feeling overwhelmed and you cannot seem to focus, call a time-out for yourself. Set a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes and write down everything that you are worried about. When the buzzer sounds, put away your worries and allow yourself to move on. By setting aside time, you are able to address your worries and they will not take over your day!
- Make a worry box. Find any box, decorate it however you like, and keep it in a handy place. As a worry occurs write it down on a piece of paper and drop it into the box. Once your worry is deposited in the box, try to turn your attention to other matters. At the end of the week or month, you can throw out the notes without looking at them again or review them to see if they are as much of an issue as they once were. Putting your worries in the worry box symbolizes mentally letting go of your worries.
- Recognize your accomplishments at the end of each day. Try a blogging or journaling exercise at the end of the day in which you list what you have accomplished that day. This will remind you that amidst the stress of your day, you still are making progress toward your goals.
- Manage priorities. Decide what must be done and what can wait. Learn to say no to new tasks until you feel you are no longer overloaded.
- Schedule regular times for relaxing activities. If your schedule only includes the things you have to do, make it a point to include things that you want to do. If you include things that you enjoy in your schedule, you can take a break from the activities that may produce stress.
- Mindfulness in meditation, or present-focused awareness, involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.
- Yoga and Thai Chi—These graceful forms of exercise use gentle, flowing movements and can help reduce stress levels. Sometimes called “meditation in motion,” these non-competitive forms of exercise promote serenity.
- Surround yourself with humor. Be open to humor and allow yourself to laugh in pleasant and tough times. Laughing can aid in our body’s natural defense system, the immune system, by allowing the release of our negative thoughts and feelings including stress.
- Immerse yourself in nature. Our environment can play a big role in our stress level. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and promotes the production of stress hormones.
- Massage—Massage therapy has been shown to reduce perceived level of stress among people. Even short five-minute hand or foot massages can help.
These ideas cannot take the place of getting help from a healthcare professional. Professional help should be sought if stress is causing a significant interference with your daily activities or if you have depression, high levels of anxiety, or if stress has caused other significant health concerns.