Like with alcohol and junk food, the key to dealing with stress is moderation. At healthy levels, it can motivate you, spark passion and instigate quick, effective thinking. When stress becomes unhealthy though, it can be paralyzing, overwhelming and have serious effects on the body. Stress affects everyone. No one is immune to it. Find out how to balance the stress that’s not good for you or your health.
Surprising Factors and Facts about Stress
You know how stress feels, but do you know how it is manufactured within the body? According to the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center, it all starts with perceiving a threat by putting the nervous system on alert. Here’s how:
- The adrenal cortex automatically releases stress hormones.
- The heart beats harder and more rapidly.
- Breathing becomes more rapid.
- Thyroid gland stimulates the metabolism.
- Larger muscles (such as quads and lats) receive more oxygenated blood.
Effects of Stress
This impact can be a good thing, but chronic stress can not only wreak havoc on you emotionally, it can also stress out your body, especially your heart. How do you know when you get to that level? The American Psychological Association defines chronic stress as: “When stress starts interfering with your ability to live a normal life for an extended period.” The APA’s top tip: identify your stressors.
Things Causing You Stress
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, there are three types of causes of stress:
- “Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities.”
- “Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.”
- “Traumatic stress, experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where one may be seriously hurt or in danger of being killed.”
You can think of these as degrees of seriousness, too, ranging from manageable to very serious. Although, that said, many people deal with stress differently and even daily stress can be serious for some and turn into chronic stress.
Causes of Stress
Stress is definitely a growing field of research, and we’re finding out more and more about why it targets some people more than others. In fact, one study from Concordia University found that people who have variations in their heart rate may be more susceptible to stress than those who don’t. Another study found that women with coronary heart disease are more likely than men with the same condition to experience reduced blood flow when mentally stressed. So at your next physical, it would be worth talking to your healthcare provider to see if you’re at risk.
There are many forms of relaxation, from a girls’ day out at the spa to your favorite yoga class. But all these things have one thing in common. They get you to slow down. They slow down your breathing, your mind, your emotions and your body. New research though shows that nutrition can also help. Omega-3s are known to be low in people who experience depression and have the inability to deal with stress, but a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that these fatty acids can help, and can take the place of smoking as a relaxation tool and actually helped smokers reduce the number of smoked cigarettes.
How to Deal with Stress
There are many ways to deal with stress, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. Here are just a few:
1. Set priorities
Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload. Also note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
2. Exercise regularly
Just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress. Exploring stress-coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises can also be helpful.
3. Avoid dwelling on problems
If you can’t do this on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you.
4. Be social
Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support.
5. Ask for help
Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work burdens or family issues, such as caring for a loved one. Seek the assistance of a qualified mental health care provider for help in coping.
How to Control Anxiety
Anxiety is somewhat different than stress in that it’s more about the dreading of specific or general situations than how you are reacting to an event. But there are some fun ways to deal with anxiety.
Watch those viral animal videos. Animal therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety and loneliness by 60 percent, shows a study published in the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health.
Go on Facebook and check out others’ photos. A study published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found that looking at family photos had positive effects on the brain during MRI scans. It actually reduced the “threat” brain activity.
Call a friend. Your friends think highly of you. Often people with anxiety don’t think they have a strong social circle and feel alone. A study from Washington University in St. Louis though says that’s not true. Subjects with anxiety were overly negative about their relationships compared to what the friends reported.
Like stress, anxiety can become chronic and serious. If you think you’re at risk, talk to your healthcare provider.