We often hear that stress and anxiety are the mental disorders of the decade, but what does that even mean? Why are more and more people claim they feel under a lot of stress and why is anxiety such a common diagnosis in today’s modern society? But everything aside, is it that easy to reduce stress?
Why Stress Is Bad
You probably know most of the reasons and ways in which stress can take a toll on your body and mind. This negative impact has been studied from a medical point of view as well, and it turns out that when you’re stressed:
- Your digestive system no longer works as it should. First of all, your liver will produce extra glucose, which means there will be more sugar in your bloodstream. It does that because it feels that your body needs a boost of energy in a rather critical situation. However, your body might not be able to keep up the pace with the extra blood sugar, in which case you will be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, stress affects the food’s movement inside the body, which can lead to constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, acid reflux, and others.
- Stress boosts the immune system in the short term, which is good to prevent immediate situations. However, in the long run, stress hormones will weaken a person’s immune system, which makes the body less capable of fighting off infections and viruses, healing wounds, and so on.
- You might be aware of the body’s “fight or flight” response. There are two reactions that people have under stressful situations that we consider threatening. The fight or flight response falls under the responsibility of the central nervous system. When you face a stressful situation, the hypothalamus tells your adrenal glands to increase the production of cortisol and adrenaline, which are the stress hormones. This gets the blood flowing faster and accelerates heartbeats, inducing a state of alertness. When you no longer feel stressed, your body returns to normal. However, if the stress factor lingers, the fight or flight response continues to activate all these body processes which shouldn’t be there.
- Your behavior changes and you can ruin your relationships. Stress doesn’t just make people worried and sad, it also makes them angry. And when you’re angry, even the smallest things that trigger a drastic reaction on your behalf. You’re more likely to snap and pick a fight with your colleagues, friends, or family. Naturally, since one likes to deal with people who are angry so often, there are chances of people starting to avoid interactions with you.
How to Reduce Stress
Everyone has periods of stress. That’s one of the things that makes us human: the voice of reason that causes us to feel tense and threatened under certain circumstances. But even if stress doesn’t do you harm as long as it passes within a couple of days, it can also be a state that sticks with you for longer, in which case you want to focus on getting rid of it.
Keeping a diary
It might sound childish, but keeping a diary is going to help you manage stress in more ways than one. First of all, it gives you a chance by blowing off some steam when you lay your thoughts down on paper. It gives you the chance to feel like you’re taking something off your chest without actually revealing something to another person (because you sometimes feel that you can’t really talk about a situation with someone else).
Second, it helps you see the bigger picture. Times of stress will come and go, and sometimes you won’t even remember what you used to stress over. A diary is like a collection of thoughts that can help you get in touch with your past self so that you can analyze your past behavior more objectively. When you’ve gotten over a rough patch, you will be more objective about the whole situation, and a diary will refresh your memory in regards to the details.
There is a saying that goes something like “never make important decisions when you’re hungry or angry”. This statement is perfectly valid when you’re feeling stress. How often have you felt so sad and upset that you felt you weren’t able to think straight?
When you’re stressed, you are overwhelmed with a wave of negative emotions that can seriously cloud your judgment. Because of that, it’s best if you postpone making important decisions until things cool off and you get a chance to focus on other perspectives about how to handle a certain situation.
Free your schedule
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with the things that needed to be done up to a point where you just wanted to sit in a dark corner and cry, that’s stress taking over. Take a deep breath and revise your schedule for the day. Prioritize the things that are urgent and important, and try to postpone the ones that aren’t and that might bring more stress to the surface. Don’t wait 30 minutes in line at the bank if that’s something that you can do another day.
Do your thing
Needless to say, the best way to unwind is to engage in an activity that brings you joy and helps you disconnect, if only for a few hours. Some people like to unwind by watching a movie, others like to solve puzzles, play video games, dancing, painting, go out for a walk, or even bake.
When you engage in an activity that brings you pleasure, your attention shifts from whatever was causing stress to that particular thing you’re doing.
Meditation can take a lot of different forms: from practicing deep breaths to mindfulness. Let’s take a moment to talk a little bit about mindfulness, because you will come across this concept very often in today’s day and age, and it’s important to know how it relates to stress reduction.
Mindfulness is more like a skill of being able to fully live in the present moment. It’s a state of meditation, but also one of awareness, which helps you get in touch with what you’re doing right now and what is your surrounding environment. It is considered to be a quality that all human beings have, only it takes a little bit of practice to be able to do it.
Across the literature, there have been plenty of talks about the benefits of mindfulness, a practice that can help you lower your anxiety levels, make you less emotional in situations where you should be more objective, help you deal with physical pain, and reduce stress.
There are people that practice mindfulness because they want to improve their attention span and train their memory and focus, but there are also people who do it because it helps with stress, anxiety, and depression. Mindfulness is a practice that helps people feel better from a psychological point of view but also helps them get in touch with their emotions up to a point where they begin to see patterns, understand how they’re feeling, and analyze their reactions in stressful and emotional situations.
Spend time with your loved ones
Whether it’s your spouse, your siblings, your children, your parents, your best friend, your work colleagues, or other people that bring joy in your life, every period of stress is best to overcome if you are not alone. You can choose to talk about what’s troubling you, or simply rely on them to keep you distracted. Whatever the case, you need to be with people that make you feel good.
Support from those close to you can mean a great deal when you have to deal with stress. Studies have shown that women who spend time with children and friends have a higher release of oxytocin, which is a hormone that helps them get rid of stress naturally. It is the opposite of the fight or flight response, and it’s called “tend and befriend”.
There are very few problems with your mind that you can’t resolve by exercising more often. A lot of people who don’t exercise think that it makes no sense to put your body through physical exertion in order to free your mind, but that is exactly what happens. Of course, if you only exercise when you’re feeling stressed, you won’t be able to enjoy the long term benefits: just as a more positive state of mind and better overall health.
When you exercise, your body starts releasing endorphins, which are hormones that can help fight off cortisol. If you notice that stress is keeping you up at night, you can get a better night’s sleep by exercising. Working out is also a great confidence booster because you feel more in control of your body and start feeling better about yourself because of that.
They say there’s nothing that sleep can’t solve. While that is a bit of an overstatement, it might work when you’re feeling overwhelmed and stress is getting in the way of your mental well-being. It is a well-known fact that stress makes you feel more tired. You might not be getting enough sleep, or it could be that your body is under a constant state of alertness and it’s wearing you out.
If possible, try to take a one-hour nap in the afternoon. As you know, when you’re sleeping, you give your body time to regenerate and give your mind time to take a well-deserved rest. Sleep helps reduce stress and makes you more capable of making better decisions.
If you ask any successful entrepreneur about how they manage to stay sharp every day, most of them will tell you that they’re getting plenty of rest during the night. You gain mental clarity and the ability to focus on actually finding good solutions for the problems that are causing high levels of stress in the first place.
Turn to aromatherapy
This is considered a form of holistic treatment that used the power of plant extract to promote well-being. This entire practice is based on combining essential oils in order to have a healthier mind and body. Over the past years, aromatherapy practices have gained a considerable number of followers, but few people know that this is a practice that’s been around for thousands of years.
Aromatherapy can actually refer to the skin and smell absorption, and you may require the use of other tools, such as diffusers, facial steamers, inhalers, clay masks, compresses, etc.
It’s important to note that there is little scientific evidence that backs up the efficiency of aromatherapy as part of a stress treatment compared to other stress relievers. That doesn’t mean there is no evidence alone. Research so far has concluded that:
- Aromatherapy works by altering a person’s behavior and brain waves, inducing a state of tranquility.
- Lavender, in particular, is efficient in reducing infant crying and can help promote sleep in the older and younger population.
- Aromatherapy alters a person’s perception of stress and can decrease cortisol levels.
Some of the most common essential oils that are used to reduce stress in aromatherapy practices include lavender, sandalwood, geranium, ylang-ylang, vetiver, bergamot, and rose.
Turn to therapy
One of the most common misconceptions in the world is that therapy is for crazy people. Attending therapy sessions is actually an act of courage because the therapist guides you to explore parts of your past that a lot of people find difficult to talk about.
What can therapy do for your stress levels? It can help you open up and reach a point where you can be more capable of objective analysis of the things that are troubling you. That doesn’t mean that therapy strips you of your emotional response, but it can help you access memories that might have a lot to do with how or why you react to stress in a certain way.
Therapy sessions are meant to be a form of introspection, as long as you attend them on a regular basis. Not only can therapy help you understand why you’re stressed with better clarity, but you can discover tools that will help you handle stress in the future as well.
It often happens that people feel overwhelmed and stressed without being able to pinpoint the exact cause or determine what the root of the problem is. The therapist is there to ask all the right questions and teach you how to analyze yourself. The more you understand about yourself, the more capable you will be of taking a step back when you encounter stressful situations in the future, and find better management solutions.
Do things that boost your self-esteem
It’s not uncommon for people who are under a lot of stress to start thinking less of themselves. We sometimes see these problems that life throws our way as a chance to prove that we’re strong, and when we fall prey to the mental pressure, we start thinking that we’re too weak to handle these “grown-up” problems.
But what if you engaged in activities that you know you can pull off, and that can boost your self-esteem in the process? In other words, do things you know you’re good at and can’t fail, so that you can indulge in these little victories that actually mean a lot for your mental well-being.
Are you really good at cooking? Then organize a dinner party and whip up your famous cupcakes or that tasty lasagna that your friends love. Are you keen on solving math problems? How about looking for some tough puzzles and work your way to finding the solution? Are you more of a creative person? Then how about looking for your next DIY project and create something you can take pride in? These activities can lead you to have an amazing day at home.
The key is to focus on what you’re good at in order for you to understand your worth and accept the fact that nobody is good at absolutely everything. This little self-esteem tip is bound to take some of the stress off your shoulders (and even if it didn’t, you’ll have something to occupy your mind with and avoid thinking about your problems for a little while).
Stress can be a slow killer, and even if you sense it on a mental level, it also has a negative impact on your body as well. People who are stressed tend to get sick more often, find it harder to recover when they fall ill, are more likely to pick fights with family and friends, and have a harder time sleeping once a certain something keeps them up at night.
Dealing with stress is extremely important, and a lot of people see stress as something that everybody has to deal with, so the best they can do is “suck it up”. But there is something in between whining all the time and completely ignoring the fact that you’re feeling like you’re about to explode, and that’s called stress management.