Stress is something that everyone experiences at some point in their life. Stress can be caused by any event or situation that poses a physical, mental, or emotional challenge. However, not all stress is bad; good stress, or eustress, can pressurize you to perform better in an exam or a meeting, alarm the senses during an accident or altercation, or even prompt you to act swiftly in a natural calamity. On the other hand, negative stress can obstruct the general, healthy functioning of our bodies.
Science has proven time and again that stress can lead to a lot of mental and physical health issues. Physically, there are no direct signs of stress; physiologically it causes a tensing of the nerves causing muscle aches. Prolonged exposure to stress can cause the body to remain in a ‘taut’ or ‘tense’ state causing varying degrees of musculoskeletal pain. In addition, studies also suggest that your appetite and sleep health are also compromised by stress. That being said, a positive stress response can help reduce and manage the harmful effects of stress and help you lead a stress free life.
However, there are many things that we generally resort to which instead of managing stress, move us towards a more stressful life. Let’s explore.
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5 things you may be doing wrong about managing stress
Using alcohol, drugs or other compulsive behaviors to reduce stress
It is easy to turn to this method and find instant stress relief and comfort in the numbness it can provide. However, stress only gets aggravated as your tolerance for substance abuse increases. Rampant alcohol consumption or drug abuse can only cause a momentary distraction from stress. All of these compulsive behaviors are however short-term distractions, not long-term fixes. Long term drug-abuse and alcoholism can permanently hamper the body’s neurological system.
Having a limited understanding of stress
The word stress is commonly used, but we often fail to understand that stress is a wide spectrum; it can be good stress, bad stress or something in between. Good stress or eustress can be a catalyst that pushes you to perform better at a test or presentation, bad stress is the one that paralyzes you and makes you go blank at the test/presentation. Understanding and identifying the triggers and how the stress impacts you can help you manage it better.
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Not assessing your stress levels and the impact it has on your physical and mental health
Try to identify the changes that creep in when you are feeling stressed out. It can be a loss of appetite or an increase in appetite, trouble sleeping, or feelings of frustration at things that usually wouldn’t frustrate you.
Imagine a scale of 1 to 10, where would you place your stress?
If you come up with a number under 5, try talking to a friend or do a quick deep breathing exercise, to temporarily distract you for short-term relief.
If you come up with a number above 5, you should look for long-term strategies for stress relief such as talking to a therapist or mental health professional about your stressors. They can help you identify and manage your stressors, and work on techniques that can help you live a stress free life.
Not deep diving into stress management techniques
What causes stress is subjective. Each individual feels and manages stress differently. Presenting in front of a crowd might be stressful for you but not for everyone. Another cause of stress might be your first day on the job but it might not necessarily have the same effect on you. Similarly, managing stress works differently for everyone.
Learning to identify the ‘stress help’ you need is like learning a skill that would be applicable and forever helpful. As you age, the causes of stress may vary, but your ability to relieve stress will always come in handy.
Ignoring the negative impacts of stress
It is not uncommon to hear people say ‘I am so stressed’ or ‘this is very stressful’. Unfortunately, this has resulted in undermining the importance of stress management. Since it is so common, some people might find it easier to just ignore it or deal with it later on. What we often fail to understand is, accepting stress as a part of the lifestyle can lead to sidelining our problems and becoming a mere spectator of our own life. The more the stress builds up, the more difficult it can get to manage.
10 long-term stress management techniques for a stress free life
Long-term stress management usually includes making some gradual lifestyle changes that can lead to an overall healthy life. Let’s discuss a few stress reduction strategies below.
1. Maintaining a healthy diet
According to studies out there, well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stressful events. A balanced diet can keep your energy up and your mind clear. There are certain foods such as omega-3 fats and vegetables that help in regulating your cortisol levels, which is one of the primary stress hormones.
2. Reduce caffeine and sugar
The temporary “high” that caffeine and sugar provide often ends in a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll not just feel more relaxed and you’ll also sleep better.
3. Avoid substance use
Self-medicating with substances such as alcohol, nicotine or other forms of drugs may provide an easy escape from stress and provide instant gratification, but the relief is only temporary. It only results in the building up of stress which can cause you to have a nervous breakdown.
4. Improve sleep health
Adequate sleep can fuel your mind and nourish your body. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, can have a significant impact on your wake-sleep cycle in a variety of ways, If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, try to adopt some healthy bedtime routines or habits such as avoiding screens, listening to sleep music or any other activity that relaxes you.
5. Incorporate exercise into your routine
Exercising on a regular basis is a great way to manage stress. Exercise does not necessarily have to mean just going to the gym – it can be any other form of exercise that you enjoy. If you are not a fan of the gym, consider other alternatives such as yoga or running. Even incorporating a daily walk is a good start. Wysa also has a variety of exercises such as yoga or exercises that you can do at your desk. Try them out if you are not sure where to start.
6. Adopting other hobbies and relaxing activities.
Most of us feel as though our lives are too busy for hobbies. But building time for leisure activities into your schedule could be key to a stress free life. Think of what activities you enjoy and help you relax- it could be yoga, painting, deep breathing exercises or even sipping a cup of tea in the evenings. It may seem small but can have positive long-term effects.
7. Practice meditation and mindfulness
Consider practicing mindfulness and meditation in your daily life. Mindfulness and meditation can help you stay connected and grounded to the present moment which can especially help in staying calm if you are stuck in stressful situations. It is not an easy habit to adapt but can be done gradually. Wysa has a ton of free mindfulness tools and techniques that you can try today.
8. Maintain healthy relationships
There is nothing more calming than spending quality time with a friend or family member who makes you feel safe and understood. Science states that a face-to-face interaction triggers a cascade of hormones that counteracts the body’s defensive “fight-or-flight” response. It’s nature’s natural stress reliever. Try to make plans to spend time with friends and family to meet and catch up regularly. Sometimes, you might not have your best friend or family close by, but by building and maintaining a support system that you can lean on, you can improve your resilience to life’s stressors.
9. Work on time management
When you are stretched thin and running behind, it is hard to stay calm and focused. With less time, you would be tempted to avoid or cut back on all the healthy things you should be doing to keep in check, like eating proper meals and getting enough sleep. Here’s what you can do to manage your time better:
Don’t over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. We often underestimate how long things take or expect too much of ourselves.
Prioritize tasks. Make a list of tasks you have to do and tackle them in order of importance. If you have something particularly unpleasant or stressful to do, try to get it over with early.
Break down tasks. If a large project seems overwhelming, make a step-by-step plan. Focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
Keep track: Use to-do notes to keep track and introspect the decisions you make and your relationships with people in your life. When it gets confusing, ask yourself ‘How important is it?’, ‘How much would this matter in the next few years’, ‘Is this person worth prioritizing?’, and so on.
10. Seek support from a mental health professional.
There might be certain circumstances that are beyond our capacity. So if you feel like you’ve been feeling stressed out over a long period of time, and no stress management techniques seem to work, it might be a good idea to consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Therapy can provide a much-needed platform for self-expression and act as a safe space where you can channel your thoughts and work through your own emotions.
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Commonly asked questions about stress
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s neurological response to a new or challenging circumstance. It incites a ‘fight or flight’ response in us to cue in our decision-making. Basically, stress can be thought of as any emotional or mental strain or tension caused by an incident or situation in life. All stress is not negative; we all need a certain amount of pressure or push to be productive. However, a prolonged period of stress can lead to a variety of health complications in the long run. A stressed-out state of mind can greatly influence our ability to function and to take reasonable, well-thought-out decisions.
What are the common signs of stress?
Common signs of stress are insomnia, loss of appetite, and mood swings mixed with bouts of anger. In some cases, the person may withdraw from social interactions and experience a lack of sexual desires.
What are the 3 causes of stress?
Stress can be caused by a variety of reasons ranging from mental, emotional and financial circumstances in an individual’s life. Stress looks different for everyone and hence, cannot really be cut down to 3 causes.
What is a stress test?
A stress test can help measure the amount of perceived stress an individual may be facing in their day-to-day life. It could also help identify triggers as well as coping mechanisms an individual may be resorting to coping with stress. You can use the Holmes & Rahe stress scale to measure how much stress is in your life and whether you’re at risk of developing chronic stress.
What are the physical symptoms of stress?
Stress can manifest physically in the form of body aches, headaches, chest pain, irregular blood pressure, loss of energy and irritable or irregular bowel movements such as constipation and diarrhea.
How can you stop stress eating?
Self-control is key. Make a conscious effort to distract your mind with activities that make you happy every time you notice you are stress eating. You could also take the help of your friends and family to ensure they steer you away from constant binging.
Can stress cause nosebleeds?
Nosebleeds from stress can happen in some situations although their occurrence is not too common. Typically, a nosebleed takes place when tiny blood vessels erupt inside your nose. Many people with severe anxiety disorders often complain of experiencing nosebleeds when stressed, since the latter often acts as a trigger. Patients suffering from hypertension and high blood pressure are at a high risk of encountering nosebleeds from stress as a side-effect of medications such as blood thinners. If you get stress nosebleeds often under trying circumstances, you must go to a physician and seek a solution.
Can stress cause rashes?
Excess stress can cause a chemical imbalance in the body which can lead to acne breakout on the skin. Stress causes the body to release cortisol in the blood stream which makes the skin glands release more oil. Many teenagers prone to acne and young adults develop a stress rash on hands, rash on neck, stress bumps on face, et cetera. For most people susceptible to such a skin reaction, symptoms of stress on face are most visible.
Can stress cause spotting?
Spotting is a term used to describe light menstrual bleeding that happens between two regular menstrual cycles. Many women experience spotting when stressed; the amount of blood discharged is generally limited to a couple of droplets of blood as opposed to a full fledged period. Stress causes many hormonal imbalances in the body that can lead to disruptions in the normal menstrual cycle and stress spotting.
Can stress cause weight loss?
For most people, stress and weight loss are correlated in many ways. Stress causes many chemical imbalances in our blood stream that affect our mood, our diet and the way our body reacts to the external environment. But, can stress cause loss of weight? How exactly, does stress cause weight loss? The answer lies in erratic eating habits that we develop because of stress. Work-relateds stress may make you miss meals while emotional stress may increase your craving for ice cream. The pattern varies from person to person; hence, some folks may experience weight loss from stress while the others may end up gaining weight. Either way, whether you’re losing weight from stress or putting it back on, it isn’t healthy. Here’s why weight loss and stress are not the best combination:
When you’re stressed, your body pumps excessive adrenaline into the bloodstream which keeps you awake and alert longer while reducing your hunger and desire to eat.
This, in turn, slows down your digestive process and puts you at risk of various gastrointestinal diseases and heartburn.
Lack of nutrition reduces nourishment to the central nervous system which causes non-deliberate nervous movement, also known as tics.
In the long run, losing weight from stress also interferes with regular sleeping cycles and can cause an early onset of insomnia. Hence, you must try to stay healthy and incorporate ways to relieve stress effectively to prevent it from wrecking your health. After all, there are many good ways to lose weight, stress is not one of them.
Can stress cause nausea?
Nausea from stress is common among individuals facing compelling situations such as a competitive classroom environment or a workspace. The severity of nausea differs from person to person; for some folks is a slight sensation of uneasiness while others may experience severe dizziness and vomiting. Stress and nausea cause a rush of hormones in the bloodstream that can lead to shortness of breath, muscle tension, and migraines. In order to overcome stress-related nausea, try a deep breathing exercise and then performing an activity that relaxes you. It can be a pep talk from a friend or listening to your favorite song.
Photo by Radu Florin