Everyone might be familiar with stress but not everyone is aware of just how dangerous it is for one’s health. In fact, the top causes of death around the world: heart disease, cancer, lung problems, cirrhosis of the liver, accidents, and suicide are all related to stress.
Moreover, seventy-five to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are due to conditions and complaints that are stress-related. Even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has asserted that stress is one of the threats in the workplace.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s normal response to situations that make a person feel upset or threatened. It is the body’s way of protecting itself.
During periods of stress, the body starts pumping adrenalin, the heart rate goes up, blood vessels dilate, breathing and sweat production increases, metabolism slows down, and muscles become tense. These reactions are part of what is called the body’s “fight-or-flight response.”
Stress doesn’t always produce negative effects. For some, it could lead to better performance because pressure can help you stay alert, energetic, and focused on the tasks at hand. Exposure to constant stress, however, could take a toll on your health and can adversely affect the different areas of your life.
What are the signs of stress?
It’s not difficult to determine whether you’re stressed or not. Almost everyone is familiar with the effects of stressors, the catalyst that causes stress. Nonetheless, you may still be surprised at just how extensive the effect of stress is on your body. If you’re not careful, it might be too late to undo the damage that it has caused.
These are some of the specific symptoms of someone who is suffering from stress:
- Poor memory
- Lack of concentration
- Impaired judgment
- Constant worrying
- Inability to solve problems
- Chest pains
- Dizziness and nausea
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Persistent colds
- Menstrual disorders
- Erectile dysfunction
- Hair loss
- Mouth ulcers
- Stomach upset
- Aches and pains in general
- Sense of helplessness
- Eating disorders
- Sleeping disorders
- Antisocial attitude
- Use or abuse of cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs to calm down
- Nervous habits
- Disregard for one’s obligations or responsibilities
Apart from the effects stated above, recent studies have shown that stress shrinks the brain, makes kids age prematurely, triggers the development depression, and could affect the genes of your future children.
Moreover, several researches have also shown that unexpected emotional stresses can provoke arrhythmias, heart attacks, and even death. This is why people who are at risk of heart disease should try to reduce stress as early as possible.
What can you do to reduce stress?
Stress affects people in varying degrees because some deal with stress better than others. In any case, it is important to remember that reducing stress will not only affect your well-being at present, it will also benefit your health in the long-term.
Here are some examples of what you can do today, which will make your older self thank you later:
Determine the factors that cause stress
The first step to reducing stress is pinpointing the exact cause/s of stress in your life. Keep a diary where you can write down your emotions and thoughts whenever you feel stressed. At the end of a few days, you should be able to identify some of the major stressors and you’ll get a sense of what you need to do to deal with them.
Build positive connections with the people around you
One of the best ways to effectively deal with stress is to have family and friends who could provide you a strong support network. Because loneliness and isolating yourself from others are symptoms of stress, it is all the more important to build positive relationships with the people closest to you.
Learn to condition your attitude and mindset
It is possible to train your mind to dwell on more positive thoughts than negative ones, which is crucial in your becoming more resistant to the effects of stress. People who suffer from the negative effects of stress think that they are victims of circumstances and that they have no control. While it is true that we can do nothing about a lot of the situations we are in, we have control over how we allow the situations affect us. Having a sense of humor, the ability to embrace challenges, and the willingness to accept change all go a long way in successfully dealing with stress.
Learning relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga will also help you have better control over your attitude and mindset. This leads to reduced stress and improved health.
Know that preparation is key
It pays to know everything you can about a stressful situation you will face because this allows you to prepare. When you’re prepared, you are better equipped and able to cope with the challenges or difficulties that the situation entails. This, in turn, reduces the possibility of stress.
Acknowledge the wisdom in walking away
There will always be situations that can’t be dealt with easily and immediately. In those instances, you’ll probably be tempted to give in to anger and frustration but before that happens walk away even for just a few minutes. If you can’t physically walk away from a stressful situation, delay your reaction by taking a deep breath, having a sip of water, or counting to 10. These actions will give you the opportunity to organize your thoughts and allow you the chance to react in a more positive way.
Listen to music
Take a break from a stressful situation by listening to relaxing music. Doing so can affect the brain and the body positively by making you calm, lowering your blood pressure, and reducing cortisol. Most people usually find classical music calming but you could also listen to nature sounds if that’s your thing.
The saying “laughter is the best medicine” is especially true when it comes to fighting stress because when you laugh, the levels of stress-aggravating hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenalin) are lowered and feel-good hormones, such as dopamine, are released.
Get enough sleep
Many emotional disorders have been related to disrupted sleep. If you’ve been feeling angry, sad, exhausted, and generally stressed for no apparent reason, you might not be getting enough sleep. Admittedly, stress could be what is making it difficult for you sleep but if you don’t do something about it, this vicious cycle will continue. The National Sleep Foundation provides some tips on how you could develop healthy sleeping habits. Try some of the tips to see which works best for you.
Incorporate stress-busting super foods into your diet
When you’re stressed, you’re more prone to eating food that are bad for your health, such as those high in fat and sugar. Although your first instinct might be to reach for these comfort foods during stressful situations, turning to healthier alternatives could not only help relieve your tension but will benefit your overall health as well.
The next time you feel stressed, try consuming the following:
- Grapes, berries, nuts, and green tea
These contain antioxidants that help increase the body’s ability to respond to stress. They also combat free radicals brought about by stress.
- Spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, and romaine lettuce
These are some examples of leafy greens that contain folate, which regulates the production of dopamine, a chemical that induces pleasure and helps keep you calm.
- Oatmeal, whole-grain pasta and breads, corn, and peas
These are examples of complex carbohydrates, which help the brain create serotonin without adding to your body’s already elevated blood sugar level caused by stress.
- Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help offset the adverse effects of adrenalin and cortisol.
- Fortified milk, fortified cereal, and egg yolks
These contain vitamin D, which is believed to increase happiness. In studies, people with high levels of vitamin D in their system exhibited a reduced risk of panic disorders.
- Yogurt, nuts, fish, and leafy greens
These are great sources of magnesium, which has been shown to aid in relieving irritability, depression, and fatigue.
Exercise is not only essential if you want to stay fit, it’s also a great way to relieve stress since it boosts the production of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural chemicals that leads to euphoric feelings, regulation of appetite, and the strengthening of the immune system. If you’re having a stressful day, try taking a walk or spending at least a few minutes at the gym and see how different your mindset will be when you return to work.
Recognize when it’s necessary to seek professional help
When you’ve tried everything you can to deal with stress on your own and you still feel overwhelmed, it may be time for you to ask the help of a professional. A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can teach you ways to effectively handle stress.
Stress is an everyday occurrence but it doesn’t have to be part of your life so follow the practical tips in this article if you want to live longer, healthier, and happier.