Stress! It’s a huge and extremely common experience that affects us all in different ways. It dampens the joy of the rest of our experiences, becomes an unwanted focus, and reduces the thresholds for which our bodies can manage, overwhelming the body and ultimately resulting in dis-ease. Which is why learning stress management techniques that work for you is so important.
Personally, I’m no stranger to stress. Running a small business throughout Covid was stressful. Sleepless nights with the little ones while working full-time was stressful. But, nothing was as stressful as witnessing the traumatic birth of my now 5 year old boy, Zac.
In fact, the most stressful times were when the kids were really ill, which thankfully has been few and far between. During these times, nothing outside existed until I saw they were better.
We’ve all experienced stress in one way or another. Work stress, financial stress, family stress or a combination of all of them together. Our body deals with stress in different ways. But what remains the same is the initial response to release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, triggering a ‘fight or flight’ response. This response prepares the body for the stressor which can have several effects on the body.
The effect of stress on the body
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure: The body’s cardiovascular system responds to stress by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, which can help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and organs that need them.
- Rapid breathing: Stress can cause rapid, shallow breathing, which can make it difficult to catch one’s breath and causes hyperventilation.
- Increased muscle tension: Stress can cause muscles to tense up, which can lead to headaches, neck pain, and other physical discomfort.
- Decreased digestion: Stress can slow down digestion, leading to constipation or diarrhea. Chronic stress can also lead to malabsorption of key nutrients leading to other conditions.
- Suppressed immune system: Prolonged stress can suppress the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections and illnesses.
- Insomnia: Stress can cause difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to insomnia.
- Increased risk of chronic health problems: Prolonged stress can increase the risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
Sometimes the stress factor is short enough that you manage your way out of it, sort it or see it through. However, if that stress factor is prolonged enough then you have to work out how to cope with your stress through your own means.
So how do you cope with stress? What are your stress management techniques? What’s your “thing” that gets you through it? It’s vital to manage stress using healthy mechanisms that work for you (aka your “thing”)
Stress management and coping techniques
If you’re scratching your head, here are some common strategies that can be used to help manage stress.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can help reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. Physical activity releases endorphins, which can boost your mood and energy levels.
- Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a technique that involves focusing your attention on the present moment. This practice can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and learn to let go of negative emotions that contribute to stress.
- Time management: Effective time management skills can help you prioritize your tasks, reduce procrastination, and increase productivity. This can lead to a more balanced and less stressful life.
- Social support: Spending time with friends and family can help you feel supported and reduce stress levels. Talking to others about your problems can also help you gain new perspectives and find solutions to stressful situations.
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization can help you relax and reduce stress.
Stress management and coping techniques to avoid
Most importantly: Avoid unhealthy coping strategies. They might feel like they work in the short-term. But long-term they’ll come back to bite you. Some examples of these are strategies which include excessive alcohol or drug use, overeating, or avoiding the problem all together.
What’s my “thing”?
For me, it’s running. That’s my “thing”. The moment my stress levels increase, my mood changes or any other common sign my body gives me that I’m stressed, I put my music on (usually some hard rock which you’d imagine would only increase my stress levels) and go for a run. I find myself reflecting on the stress on my runs. I feel like I come up with better perspectives and some ideas on how to deal with things whilst running.
Usually, I come back from the run feeling better. And hungry. But mainly better.
My final thought is that people deal with stress differently.
People’s thresholds for what they can manage are also different. One person may not manage the same stress someone else has in the same way. If your coping strategies don’t work, if the stress is so great that it doesn’t feel manageable then it may be helpful to seek a therapist or counselor.
And, if nothing else, start by telling someone. If you’re seeing one of the therapists at the clinic, tell us. They’re always available to offer a listening ear. And we can at least direct you if it’s something that could benefit from receiving further help.
The first step to owning your health
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