Stress is a present factor in everyone's lives. Normally, this is because significant events are happening: preparing for exams, nearing the end of a big work project, giving a speech, etc. Unfortunately, far too many of us experience stress on a regular basis. Our everyday work lives, our financial situations, even our social lives can feel stressful at times. Feeling stressed during big and important events is fine, even healthy. However, regular stress can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies.
If you find that you're constantly stressed, you're not alone. A 2015 survey showed that 35% of Australians reported significant levels of distress in their lives. The good news is that it doesn't need to stay that way. Stress is not the way to thrive, and with some help, you'll definitely be able to overcome it! We're going to teach you all about stress and how you can manage it so that you can go back to thriving.
The Impact of Stress
Because stress has been so prevalent in our lives, we've at least studied it plenty and understand pretty well the health issues caused by stress.
What Happens When We Get Stressed?
When we're faced with a stressful event, our bodies release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Our bodies have adapted this response to help us get out of life-threatening situations, such as being faced with a bear. However, unlike our cavemen ancestors, we're not often faced with that kind of situation and are faced with deadlines instead. The hormones released create changes in our bodies (such as an increased heart rate and dilated pupils) that allow us to better physically react to dangerous scenarios, which aren't all that helpful when we're just trying to get our work done on time.
The thing is, rushing to finish a job in time for a deadline lasts much longer than a confrontation with a bear, leading to prolonged stress responses. Although they're fine for a short period, having these stress hormones released over a long period of time is what results in longer-term negative effects.
The Psychological Impacts
Stress not only causes momentary unease. There are also long-term consequences to those negative feelings and overflow of hormones:
- Chronic worry, fear, and anger
- Feelings of helplessness
- Difficulties with concentration and memory
- Feeling overwhelmed
The Physical Impacts
As mentioned above, stress hormones enable us to physically react in dangerous situations. When this happens, energy is diverted from our body's other functions that are considered less important in a life-threatening situation. For example, our body doesn't want to spend resources digesting food when it could be getting us prepared to run as fast as possible. This isn't good for us over a long period of time. As a result, any of the following symptoms could occur:
- Heart palpitations
- Sleep disturbances or insomnia
- Digestion issues
- Muscular aches and pains
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
How to Manage Stress
Now that you understand how stress works and the effect it can have on you, it's time to start figuring out how you can make it more manageable. Because stress is unique to each individual, the best solution will also be your own. However, there are many ways to relieve stress and discover what works best for you.
Remember, to thrive is a lifestyle. You may not get there on day one, and that's okay. Don't give up when the first thing doesn't work. It's important to take your time to understand what works for you and what doesn't. You will get there at one point, and it will have been worth the journey.
Be Kind to Yourself
The first step you can take is to change the way you think about yourself and stressful scenarios. We often think in ways that tend to exacerbate our stress. For example, we may want to think something along the lines of "I can't handle this," or "I'll never get this done." This sort of negative thinking makes it more difficult to manage our stress. Instead, we can transform those thoughts into more positive ones, such as "I'm coping well considering the situation," or "this situation may be difficult, but it will pass."
The same is true with how we think about our situations, as we tend to exaggerate or go straight to worst-case scenarios. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, it can be helpful to ask yourself if you're overestimating the likelihood of a negative outcome or the severity of the consequences. It's also important to ask if you're underestimating your own abilities. We're often more equipped to handle stressful situations than we believe.
Relaxation is essentially the opposite of stress; if you're relaxed, you can't be stressed. Spending time relaxing each day can help regulate stress and keep you thriving. However, relaxing can be easier said than done. This is actually something that many people need to practise in order to do well, but the results are well worth it. There are many different relaxation techniques out there that are known to work well and are worth giving a try, like the following:
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation(PMR) — This method has you tensing and then relaxing each of your muscles to help combat the muscle tension caused by stress.
- Autogenic Relaxation— In a relaxing posture, you're asked to imagine a set of visualisations that are meant to induce relaxation.
- Meditation— This helps you manage your thoughts and attention in order to quickly induce relaxation for a period of time.
Exercise provides a wealth of benefits for both our mental and physical health! It releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin, which on their own help elevate your mood. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. What's more is that it can improve your memory and focus, which can help you deal with your stressors head-on. If you're worried about stress weight gain, exercise can help with that as well. Overall, regular exercise is the cornerstone of a thriving lifestyle and is beneficial to you in every way.
Try Taking Part in a Team Sport
Either as your main form of exercise or as an addition to your routine, you should consider trying out a team sport. A study found that Australian adults who participated in team sports were less likely than the average Australian to experience depression, anxiety, or stress. Along with the benefits of regular exercise, you'll also get the mental benefits of social support and teamwork.
Having hobbies that you enjoy engaging in is another great stress reliever, and practising those hobbies has been shown to increase your mental health. If it's engaging, you're going to be spending your time thinking about what you're doing rather than the stressful event going on in your life. If you find your hobby to also be relaxing, then you're getting the added benefit of feeling relaxed. If your hobby involves exercise, you're getting all of the added benefits it entails.
Try Something New
If you don't have engaging hobbies or activities you find are helping you with your stress, then try something new. There are plenty of activities just waiting for you to explore. If you can, try and find a hobby that's engaging and incorporates exercise so you can get as many benefits as possible. If you haven't tried this before, check out aerial silks or hammock. It's super fun, is a great workout, and anyone can do it! Just make sure you're properly dressed for it; wear a good pair of leggings and a shirt so you don't get silk burn.
Don't Stress, Thrive
Get started on your stress management skills today. Although the journey may take a while, each of these suggestions is quick to try. Working on your skills now can mean a healthier, more thriving tomorrow!