Stress can be a good thing in small doses, giving us an energy and alertness boost. But when it becomes chronic stress and overwhelming, it can lead to physical and mental health issues. In this article, we discuss the healthy ways to cope and reduce the impact of stress
And how to cope with it
Everyone has some sort of stress in their lives, whether simple or chronic stress. That feeling of a pounding heart before an important work presentation, or sweaty hands when you are about to meet someone important is also an impact of stress. It’s not only normal but in some cases, stress is actually good for you. When your body faces what it sees as danger, it becomes flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone. These hormones cause your blood pressure to increase, your heart to beat faster and gives a huge boost to your energy so that you are able to cope with the ‘danger’ you are about to face. A healthy occasional dose of stress keeps you alert, motivated and can build resilience.
It’s ongoing, continual stress that is a worry. When stress gets in the way of your normal life it becomes a danger to you, both mentally and physically. The daily grind we face of work pressure, childcare demands, financial worries – they can all create high levels of chronic stress. People who have high levels of stress often eat poorly, are less productive at work, don’t sleep well and stop exercising.
Physically, stress can lead to headaches, muscle tension, upset stomach and fatigue. It can also contribute to long-term health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Stress can also weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses.
Mentally, the impact of stress can lead to emotional problems, feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as difficulty concentrating and making decisions. It can impact on your sleep and your social life. People who are highly stressed and anxious may become irritable, angry and avoid social interactions. They might also cope with the stress through turning to habits that may give short term relief, but are extremely bad for their health, like overeating, smoking, excessive drinking, or excessive use of drugs.
There are much healthier ways to cope and help reduce the impact of stress:
- Look after your body. During stressful times we tend to eat badly – we might eat fast food or forget to eat regular meals. Your body will cope better with stressful situations if it is well nourished so eat healthy, regular meals, avoid highly processed and sugary foods, and drink alcohol in moderation.
- Get physical. Exercise helps to flush away the stress hormones so move your body every day, for at least 20 minutes. A short walk in a natural setting will also help you calm down and feel relaxed.
- Get proper relaxation. Relaxation techniques like yoga, mindful deep breathing, or meditation will help you boost your stress and is also said to build up your immune function. Relaxation can also be a long, relaxing bath at the end of the day, time spent gardening – anything that helps you regain your balance and gives you the opportunity to calm down.
- Get enough sleep. Get six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Stress can interfere with sleep so take steps to prevent this – don’t drink anything with caffeine for at least six hours before bedtime, switch off all electronics, and make sure your bedroom is dark enough and quiet enough for a good night’s rest.
- Get help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consult with someone who can help you manage your stress.