Stress is an inseparable part of our everyday life. Sometimes it can manifest itself as an important driving and motivational force. Stress is a natural response to difficult situations or challenges and helps our bodies gear up for action – an increased level of adrenaline speeds up the heartbeat, raises blood pressure and provides us with energy.
More often than not, the stress response self-regulates, and when the threat is gone, the body calms down and goes back to normal. Unfortunately, in the case of constant, chronic stress, this “fight or flight” response does not turn off, which can have a negative impact not only on our mental but also physical well-being.
There are numerous examples of unwanted effects of stress that cannot be underestimated. These may include:
- depression, anxiety, memory problems;
- heart problems, hypertension;
- digestive issues;
- neuralgic pain;
- disturbed circadian rhythm, problems falling asleep, fatigue.
So, how do you deal with a lot of stress and prevent its unwanted effects?
A way to combat stress? Mindfulness
First of all, we should look at the sources of stress in our lives and how we respond to it. Stress can be caused by a variety of issues, the most frequent ones being random situations beyond our control, major changes in life such as moving, changing jobs or losing a loved one.
There may also be psychological reasons for stress, including job burnout, lack of a support system or a feeling of lack of control over one's own life. However, we should be vigilant and not push our psychological comfort into the background – these isolated, seemingly minor sources of stress, can pile up and come to the surface when we find ourselves in a crisis situation that might be hard to deal with.
So let's assume that we have no control over the circumstances in which we may experience stress. What can we do then? We can always work on changing the way we respond to these types of situations.
We’re probably all aware of the common stress coping strategies such as the use of alcohol or tobacco. However, not all bad habits will have an immediate bad effect on our health – some may seem harmless, as their impact will not be visible directly. But they will only act like a dressing to a serious wound, covering the problem without solving it in the long run. Examples of such habits include trying to eat or sleep your problems away, or simply ignoring things that stress us: “I have more important things on my mind, I'll deal with it later.”
So what can we do to actually cope with problems, instead of forgetting them for a while? The American Psychological Association gives us the following solutions:
Identify your sources of stress
- As much as possible, be alert to and mindful of your mental well-being during the day – if something triggers stressful feelings, try to write down the causes, your thoughts on the situation and how you feel. By correctly identifying the source of stress, it will be easier to apply solutions that will help reduce it – for example, revisit your unrealistic expectations or simply ask others for support in everyday duties or job-related tasks.
- You can also draw up a simple list of your current duties, and determine which of those should be given priority and which can be postponed. In this way, you will prevent countless duties from piling up and will save yourself the feeling of overwhelm and burnout.
- It’s also worth noting the thoughts that cause us to feel stressed. Many of them are the so-called self-limiting beliefs, i.e. the way we see the world and a repetitive pattern of how we judge ourselves regardless of the situation we are faced with. Thinking along the lines of “whatever I do, others will always do it better or faster” can cause constant tension and will prevent you from identifying situations in your daily life that might challenge that claim. For this reason, working with self-limiting beliefs, which are always a strong source of stress, is the basic work to be done if we want to consciously start to cope with and reduce stress in our lives.
Focus on building strong ties with your family and friends
- A strong support system is very important to our mental health as it helps us build a feeling of stability that significantly affects our ability to cope with stress. If you find yourself in a tight spot, don't be afraid to turn to your family or friends for help – they may be able to offer not only practical support in a situation you’re in, but can also give you a fresh perspective and prompt solutions that you would never think of yourself.
Pause to reset when you feel irritated
- Reacting to annoying events when you are experiencing difficult emotions can only make the problem worse. So before you respond to a situation that has made you angry, take a moment to calm down your nerves. Trivial as it may sound, simply counting from one to ten can help!
- If it’s possible, you can also take a short walk and think about the problem calmly. In addition, exercise increases the production of endorphins, the mood-boosting hormones. Nothing but advantages!
Let your mind rest
- A survey carried out in 2012 by the American Psychological Association found that stress causes sleep problems in over 40% of respondents. What can you do to get enough sleep to fully regenerate?
- Try to limit your intake of caffeine and other stimulants, such as tobacco, notably in the afternoon and evening.
- Make sure that the place where you sleep is silent – try not to use electronics there and get rid of unnecessary distractions.
- Limit working in bed! In the era of work from home, we often carry a laptop to the bedroom and do work from bed, which confuses our brains. As a result, the place of rest becomes associated with activities other than sleep, making it difficult for us to relax and fall asleep.
- Try to go to sleep at the same time every day – this will optimise your body’s internal clock and will make it easier for you to fall asleep.
- Try relaxing exercises – such as yoga or mindfulness meditation, which are beneficial for reducing the effects of stress and help you calm down.
Exercise and stress
It’s hard to tackle the daily challenges when your physical health is failing. For this reason, you should pay special attention to getting enough sleep and eating a healthy, balanced diet. It’s also worth taking care of the right amount of exercise and physical activity. Why?
This is because the endorphins mentioned above are responsible for our good mood – a vigorous walk is enough to stimulate their release, which will make us feel better and give us energy to deal with everyday challenges. To help embed a new habit, it’s worth planning in advance and setting the time for light exercise.
It's important to choose something that won't be too difficult or burdensome and won't become another chore. Maybe you have someone who would like to work on their physical shape with you so you can motivate each other? Try finding something that you enjoy doing, and you will quickly feel the positive effect of exercise in the fight against stress.
Chronic stress is a highly dangerous enemy of our well-being that shouldn’t be taken lightly. With an appropriate approach, regularity and gradual introduction of changes, we can develop a strong mental resistance to stress, which will allow us to respond to it properly, return to the right track quickly, and just feel good.
However, if despite those measures you still feel overwhelmed and can't cope with stress, seek help from a therapist or another professional who will help you identify permanent sources of stress in your life and create an action plan to deal with them.