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What is Stress? Plus, 5 Ways to Manage It!

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

From everyday challenges to major crises, stress is an inevitable part of life. While some stress can motivate you to get things done, too much stress can negatively affect you mentally, physically, and emotionally. While you can’t always control your circumstances, you can control how you respond to them. Today, we’re going to cover what stress is and five ways you can manage it. Let’s get started.

What is stress?

Simply put, stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. It occurs in response to any event, thought, or situation that makes you feel frustrated, angry, fearful, or nervous.

There are two types of stress: acute and chronic. Acute stress is short-term stress that goes away quickly. You feel it when you’re working to meet a work deadline or having a disagreement with your partner. Chronic stress is stress that lasts for weeks, months, or years. It can arise if you have issues like ongoing money problems, an unhappy relationship, or a chronic health issue. You can actually become so used to chronic stress that you don’t even realize it’s abnormal or a problem!

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Forgetfulness

  • Frequent aches and pains

  • Headaches

  • Lack of energy or focus

  • Sexual problems

  • Stiff jaw or neck

  • Tiredness

  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Upset stomach

  • Use of alcohol or drugs to relax

  • Weight loss or gain

The health risks of chronic stress

Your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones. These hormones make your brain more alert, cause your muscles to tense, and increase your pulse, among other things. This is called the fight-or-flight response. In the short term, these reactions are good because they help you handle the stressful situation and get to safety. When you have chronic stress, however, your body stays alert, even though there is no immediate danger. Over time, this puts you at risk for health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, skin problems, and menstrual problems. Additionally, if you already have a health condition, chronic stress can make it worse.

How to manage stress:

Whether you’re dealing with acute or chronic stress, it’s important to learn how to effectively manage it for your overall health and well-being. Try these five techniques for better dealing with your stress.

1. Limit unnecessary stressors

While many stressors can’t be avoided, you might be surprised to realize just how many stressors you can eliminate in your life. On both a professional and personal level, learn to prioritize your tasks by level of urgency and say “no” to things that you know will overwhelm you. When possible, make it a point to limit the amount of time you spend with people who stress you out. For the most part, you are in control of how you spend your time and what you focus on. If you can avoid certain things that stress you out, do it!

2. Be active

Exercise is one of the best stress-busters in existence. Regular physical activity can relieve stress, tension, anxiety, and depression. Choose activities you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, swimming, running, lifting weights, or taking a Zumba class. You’ll likely notice that you’ll feel uplifted, at ease, and more resilient immediately following exercise and over time.

3. Eat a balanced diet

While foods like cookies and potato chips may provide a temporary sense of relief, they will ultimately negatively affect your ability to handle stress. Studies show that eating a poor diet can cause greater reactivity toward stress. Eating a healthy diet filled with fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, and lean meats can help you combat stress, support mood regulation, and balance your energy.

4. Make time for relaxation

It’s important to make time for activities that trigger a relaxation response, such as meditation, yoga, nature walks, deep breathing, and a bath with essential oils. Activities like these can help lower your stress hormones, improve your mood, and soothe your overactive nervous system.

5. Accept the things you cannot change

The reality is, some stressors are unavoidable and cannot be changed. Trying to control the uncontrollable is a recipe for more stress, not less. Rather than stressing out over these problems, focus on the thing you can control: responding in a different way. This might look like walking away from a situation instead of lashing out, or talking to a trusted friend or therapist about the issue. Try to shift your attitude toward acceptance. This doesn’t mean you have to like what is happening. It simply means making room for imperfection rather than constantly trying to fight against it.

The bottom line

Stress is a part of the human experience and, if not managed well, can cause substantial mental and physical health issues. By applying the above tips, you can find a better balance and keep your stress at manageable levels. Finding ways to navigate life’s ups and downs takes some experimenting, so don’t be afraid to try different tools to discover what works best for you.

The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this page are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this post is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics, including but not limited to the benefits of mental healthcare, wellness and nutrition. It is not intended to provide or be a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is not a substitute for a relationship with a licensed mental health practitioner. Always seek the advice of your therapist, physician or other licensed mental health professional with any questions you may have regarding a mental health condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional mental health advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this page.




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