We all share something in common.
Regardless of race, gender, age, or demographic .. there is a worldwide health issue that none of us are resistant to.
There will be seasons of life that present more tension than others and we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed from time to time.
One or two days of mounting pressure here and there shouldn’t compromise your health, but stressing out more days than not… can take a serious toll on your mind, body, and spirit.
The most recent data gathered by The Global Organization for Stress found that “75% of adults in the United States reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month, and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year.”
Stress is, no doubt, a pervasive problem. Still, yet, we tend to brush off the dangers it can cause and continue to live overwhelmed.
April is STRESS AWARENESS MONTH…. an annual time when healthcare professionals and mental health experts from all over the country come together to increase public awareness about the harmful effects stress can have and the ways to combat it.
We’re sure you don’t need a month on your already jam-packed calendars to tell you that we are a stressed-out nation. But it’s great to have a reminder to step back and look at why you may be on edge and examine ways to properly manage (and limit) stressful moments.
We can’t totally avoid stressors…
but we can take charge of how we deal with them.
In this article, we are going to go over …
- The definition of “chronic” stress.
- Ways chronic stress can negatively impact your health and waistline.
- How to recognize the effects of chronic stress.
- Ways to manage stress before (and when) it consumes you.
WHAT IS “CHRONIC” STRESS
Not all stress is bad. If you know how to properly manage stressful situations, a little bit of adrenaline can give you a boost that helps you perform better.
Stress is a natural reaction. When our body senses danger, it is flooded with an increase in several hormones. Your “fight or flight” response kicks in. This isn’t negative as long as you don’t STAY in this zone.
Short term stress (also known as acute stress) typically comes and goes so quickly that it doesn’t result in any long-term adverse effects.
Chronic stress is different. This type of stress is ongoing. It is a constant rush of stress hormones that can be debilitating to your mental and physical health.
Chronic stress doesn’t have to come as a result of a major traumatic event. In fact, it’s everyday routine pressures that leave most people, “chronically stressed.”
When your “fight or flight” mode stays “on” for an extended time (or kicks in too often) … that is when you are in a danger zone.
Being in constant “panic mode” presents an opportunity for every system in your body to be affected … either directly or indirectly.
HOW CHRONIC STRESS AFFECTS THE BODY
The longer your body is “stressed,” the more significant the impact it will have on your mind and body.
Everyone deals with pressure differently. This varies from person to person based on if the stress is “situational” or “routine” .. and of course your personality type.
Our bodies can handle a little bit of stress. But, we are not designed to manage chronic stress without consequence.
Some ways chronic stress can impact your health include:
- Weight Gain
- Mental Health Problems
- GI Issues
- Low Libido (and other sexual dysfunctions)
- Skin and Hair Problems
- Developing bad habits (using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc.) as a way to cope.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE THE EFFECTS OF CHRONIC STRESS
Because we are presented with stressful situations every day, it can sometimes be challenging to determine if you are just a little uptight and in a lousy mood, or if your stress has gotten out of control.
The sooner you realize your stress has moved into a “chronic” state .. the better chance you have to avoid the health hazards it can create.
Because people handle stress differently, everyone’s symptoms may be different.
Here are a few signs that your stress levels have potentially gone from manageable to chronic:
- Extreme fatigue
- Inability to concentrate
- Racing thoughts
- Constant worry
- Low motivation
- A drastic shift in mood (always sad or angry)
- Digestive issues
- Tense muscles
- Chest tightness/pain
- Blurred vision
- Problems falling and staying asleep
- Changes in sex drive
- A weakened immune system
- Unexplained weight gain (or loss)
WAYS TO MANAGE STRESS
It may seem like you’re doomed to live a life full of mounting pressure .. especially if your stressors are something you can’t prevent or control.
Remember, just because you can’t avoid stress, does not mean you can’t be better equipped to deal with it. You have more control than you realize!
Of course, stress management is not one-size-fits-all. It may take some experimenting to figure out what calms you the most.
8 Proven Stress Management Techniques
1. Recognize, Admit, Accept & Take Ownership
Stop saying, “I’m fine” and admit that you could probably chill out a little.
If you don’t acknowledge you are overwhelmed, you can’t take appropriate action steps to get things under control.
Every time you notice any of the “stress symptoms” mentioned above, admit you are stressed and take note of what is causing you to become frazzled.
Some stressors are easy to identify (job loss, moving, a break-up, chronic illness, etc.)
In these situations, the best thing you can do is accept that it is happening and focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react.
Other causes of stress are more difficult to pinpoint.
It is easy to look past the actions, thoughts, and feelings that are keeping you uptight. Be honest with yourself, and consider that the real cause of your stress could originate from your own bad attitude, unhealthy habits, or excuses.
Once you have a list of your stress triggers and ways that you are contributing… start looking at ways you can eliminate.
If it’s not impossible to rid yourself of the source, you have to learn to manage the stress it causes.
The next 7 steps will help with that.
2. Get regular exercise
There is a reason that many people call workouts .. therapy. Exercise can provide a healthy distraction and research proves that those who workout regularly are much less anxious than those who do not.
Being active reduces stress hormones and releases the brains “feel good” chemicals … called endorphins. This rush can elevate your mood and decrease tension.
You can up the “happy” by taking some of your workouts outdoors! Natural sunlight can boost mood and help regulate your circadian rhythm to promote a good night’s rest.
Sleep is even more important when you are stressed out, because tension can cause your cortisol (stress hormone) to skyrocket!
One of the best ways to combat that and keep your cortisol in a healthy range… is with quality sleep!
For more info on supporting healthy, quality sleep.. check out these tips!
The calming benefits of exercise are strongest when you exercise regularly.
Build some sort of regular activity into your daily routine.
Whatever exercise you choose, make sure it’s something you can implement with ease and enjoy. You certainly don’t want exercise to cause any additional stress!!
If you are exercising regularly, you may find benefit from taking a powerful thermogenic that can help support increased energy levels, amplify fat burn and suppress appetite.
Practicing meditation does wonders for not only relaxing your mind… but shifting your focus from negative to positive.
Making time for your spiritual health can allow you to see things from a new, and much calmer perspective (more on perspective in tip #8 below.)
Find a quiet place and spend at least 10 minutes in the present moment. Allow any anxious or negative thoughts to come in, and then use your personal practice of meditation to release them.
Words are powerful. Set positivity into motion by speaking positive hope-filled words instead of fear-filled words. Say it, believe for it!
4. Try Journaling
The simple act of writing things down and “getting them off your chest” has been proven to significantly reduce stress.
Writing down the way you feel helps clear your mind, organize your thoughts, and gives meaning to the things weighing you down.
There is no right or wrong way to journal. Start writing all of your thoughts and emotions, but don’t only use your journal as a way to vent.
Keeping a journal is most beneficial if you also make time to focus on the positive.
Write down things you are grateful for, and at least one positive that is happening, or could happen, as a result of your stressors.
Include ways you can improve your reactions, outcomes you would like to see, and lessons you would like to learn from your hardships.
It is just as important to be positive in your writing as it is to release the negative.
If you find it difficult to concentrate while journaling, check out this article for some helpful tips to enhance mental clarity. Our brain is continually going, going, going. Like any other muscle, it needs to be fueled to function at top capacity.
5. Breathing Techniques
One of the most powerful tools for returning to a calm state of mind after a moment of stress is incorporating breathing exercises.
These techniques work by activating a part of the nervous system that controls your relaxation response.
There are many apps and methods out there.
Here are two of our favorites.
Start by sitting or lying down. Take a deep breath through your nose until your chest is full and your belly expands.. then slowly exhale. You should begin to feel relaxing effects after just a few breaths.
The 4-7-8 Method:
While sitting or lying in a comfortable position, empty all of the air out of your lungs.
Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat the cycle up to 4 times.
Both of these methods can regulate your heart rate, lower your stress hormones (cortisol), and almost instantly reverse the stress response.
6. Set Limits
One major cause of stress is being pulled in a million different directions.
Stress levels are almost always parallel to the number of items on your to-do list. However, it’s not so much the ITEMS on your agenda that causes stress, as much as it is your attachment to them or fears that they won’t have a particular outcome, or get checked off.
Ask yourself how important the outcome is, then determine what’s necessary and what’s not. Learn to SAY NO to the things that are not essential, or can be passed on to someone else.
Much of your stress is connected to the things that are left UNdone.
Instead of a TO DO list … maybe you should have an … I am NOT GONNA DO IT list!
There are other boundaries (that do not involve your calendar) that you can set that will lower stress levels.
- Remove yourself from stressful situations that don’t directly involve you.
- Limit negative screen time (the news, etc.)
- Avoid being around negative or easily agitated people.
7. Resist Isolation
Loneliness can make it difficult to deal with stress. The “empty” feelings that come about when we isolate ourselves can also make any stress you are under .. even worse.
It is important to connect with people that make you feel calm, happy, and can offer a listening ear.
Researchers found that social interactions release a natural stress reliever called oxytocin. This is a hormone (also known as the cuddle or love hormone) that is released when people bond socially. It counteracts the “fight-or-flight response we told you about at the beginning of this article.
We would normally tell you to limit your screen time and make IN PERSON connections, but in times of social distancing, this may not be possible.
For now, take advantage of technology and have regular phone and video chat dates.
Use social media as well, but be cautious of what accounts you follow. Delete or mute pages that make you feel any sort of pressure and follow accounts that promote positivity.
8. Shift Your Perspective
“People are disturbed not by a thing, but by their perception of a thing.” — Epictetus.
What a great quote and principal to apply to our lives.
Our thoughts are not usually fact. We allow our minds to go to places it should never be.
When overwhelmed… it’s easy to become negative and cynical. Shifting your perspective and being positive can be one of your greatest weapons.
One study at the University of Michigan tested this philosophy with combat soldiers and found that those that were less negative in their thinking and more hopeful functioned better during difficult times.
When faced with something that makes you feel uptight .. ask yourself …
- Is it really worth the panic?
- How important will this be in a week, a month, a year?
- How will stressing out change the situation?
Now, take those questions a step further and ask yourself how your reaction can make the situation proactive/positive!
- What can I learn from the situation?
- What is the potential silver lining?
- Is there something within the stressor that I can also be grateful for?
Stress can be debilitating if you allow it. Changing the way you look at the situations you face can be the difference in your blood boiling… or you coming out of the storm a stronger and better person.
Stress will always be a part of life. What matters most is how you react to it.
We hope you use “Stress Awareness Month” as a time of self-reflection .. and use these tips to help better manage any stress you are currently experiencing… or future stressors that will no doubt pop up.
In addition to our own individual problems, we are all facing similar challenges right now.
We WILL get through them together and emerge from this predicament stronger than ever.
Until then, please know that our team here at V Shred and Sculpt Nation are here
to support you on your wellness journey.
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