Stress. Stress! We all suffer from it throughout our lives, even throughout each day. It can cause anxiety, depression, and mental and physical fatigue. It can destroy relationships and cause us to seek relief through drugs and alcohol. Stress can be terrible, even fatal.
Stress causes so much destruction because it is not properly channeled. It will not go away on its own, but there are ways to manage it in a way that it can be a positive force in your life.
What is stress?
We all know what stress feels like, but knowing what it is can help you attempt to control it. Stress is your body’s response to any kind of physical or mental demand. When something stressful arises, your body releases chemicals that give you increased energy and muscle strength.
In a fight-or-flight situation, this is advantageous, as you will have more power to flee or defend yourself. But this rush of chemicals into your body while you are sitting at your desk trying to pay bills with money you don’t have inevitably takes its toll on your body if not properly channeled.
What causes stress?
Some stressors are universal. Any physical threat to ourselves or our loved ones, a death in our family, financial hardship—all of these things will cause stress in any healthy person.
But some things that might be stressful to one might not be stressful to another. An office party might make one person cringe with anxiety, while another might be enjoying the best night of their life. Being asked to speak about your career at your child’s school would be an honor for some but a burden for others. One might worry about hosting a big family visit, while another might embrace it as a wonderful event.
Physical and mental fatigue without the proper rest can be quite stressful over time. It is important to know what stresses you out in order to know how to deal with it properly.
What does stress feel like?
Maybe you know you are under stress. Most people do, but some channel it in ways they might not realize.
Here are a few signs of that someone is under stress:
- Changes in appetite
- The inability to sleep because of racing thoughts
- Constantly feeling overwhelmed by your situation
- Mood swings, irritability
- The inability to focus on your work
- Increased drug or alcohol use
Stress can have physical consequences, too. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common ailments associated with long-term stress. A life of unmanaged stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Related: How Stressed Are You?
With all of this in mind, you don’t hear too many people talk about stress being a good thing. But it can be—it can motivate you, give you mental sharpness, and make you tougher and more resilient, among other things. It’s all about how you manage it, and how you prepare your mind and body for stress.
How can you manage stress?
You can’t fight it if you don’t know what it is. If a certain situation or person at work pushes your buttons, own that feeling.
(Because it won’t go away on its own.) When you know you will be encountering this person or situation, stand up straight, put a smile on your face, and see how much better things go when you approach them positively and confidently.
Your health, emotional state and the day’s events are going to affect your stress levels, and some days will be better than others. Identifying what bothers you is a start. Then tell yourself you have to go deal with so-and-so, or that the deadline you used to think was so far away is now here. Make it fun if you can, but keep your focus and resolve.
Why do people drink when they are stressed out? Because, for the short term, it works; intoxicated people aren’t usually stressed about too much. But that only lasts so long. Having a few drinks with friends after work can be a positive, bonding activity, in which case, you are socializing. Using alcohol as a way of managing stress, on the other hand, is a negative coping mechanism, one that could even result in a chemical dependency on alcohol and a lifetime of trouble.
5. Eat right.
You know what’s good for you and what’s bad for you. Don’t eat a lot of refined sugar, fatty foods like potato chips or white-flour-based foods; these snacks might satisfy cravings, but you usually end up hungry again soon after consuming them. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and if you don’t like them, find ways to enjoy them. Maybe you dip them in organic peanut butter or almond butter, or you find a vegetable or fruit you have never had before like papaya or bok choy. A couple other tips: Eat at times of your choosing and in pre-portioned amounts, and drink water instead of soda or energy drinks.
With exercise, you will feel good physically as your muscles tense and relax. You will also feel better mentally because exercise lowers hormones such as cortisol, which causes stress, and causes your brain to release endorphins, the hormones that make us feel happy and content. If running isn’t feasible, try walking; you’ll receive almost as many health benefits, and most everyone can do it. You could also try weightlifting or a group exercise class like yoga. Choose something that you can fit into your weekly schedule. Ideally, you should exercise daily, but even three times a week will make a big difference in how you feel.
Take 15 to 30 minutes out of each day to be alone and reflect. People might demand your time throughout the day, but decide which part of it is yours, and stick to it. This will make you a better friend, family member and co-worker, and will help you manage your stress for the day. During this time, you can enjoy your coffee with a newspaper, close your eyes and relax, or practice any suitable form of mediation; even just a few deep breaths with your eyes closed will provide immediate relief. This alone time will help you achieve focus, and you will be able to approach your duties calm and assured.
Waking up refreshed is key to battling stress. A couple tips: Have a set bedtime and bedtime ritual. Enjoy a cup of herbal tea while reading, and think about giving up your favorite late-night TV if it keeps you from getting an adequate amount of sleep, which is typically eight hours. If you have trouble falling asleep, try some natural remedies before asking your doctor for sleeping pills. You’ve probably heard of drinking warm milk, but did you know cherries, bananas and sweet potatoes also have chemical properties that help you sleep?
Stress will always be part of your life, so be in charge of it as much as you can. Prepare for it, plan ahead and navigate through the stressors of your day as best you can.
Related: How Successful People Beat Stress