by: Michaela Patoilo
We are all very familiar with stress and its many sources – blaring horns in traffic, screaming kids and bosses, spilled cups of coffee, crowded grocery stores, finances, work, and more. Since April is Stress Awareness Month, however, we want to help you better understand how stress impacts our health and wellbeing in the big picture.
To a degree, stress is a normal and potentially helpful part of life. When stress is continuous or severe, it can become dangerous for both your physical and mental health. Not all stress is necessarily negative (i.e. the excitement of getting married or buying your first car!), but for the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on stress that is perceived negatively, such as resulting from financial strain or bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.
How Can Stress Affect Our Health?
When your body senses a perceived ‘threat’ or ‘danger,’ even if there is no real physical danger, it reacts via the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response. This reaction causes your heart rate to increase as stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol prepare your body to face the threat. While this reaction was great when our ancestors came across a bear in the woods, it can be a tad unnecessary when we are inconvenienced at the grocery store. Unfortunately, your nervous system has a hard time differentiating between a real and perceived threat, thus reacts to stressors without discriminating.
As we go through our day-to-day lives, this reaction may be activated several times over the course of a couple hours (think: rough day at work!). When we are chronically under high levels of stress, the over-activation of our sympathetic nervous system can have detrimental effects on our mental and physical health, including:
- depression and frustration
- hair loss
- heart disease
- obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorders
- sexual dysfunction
- tooth and gum disease
- emotional burnout
What Can we do to Manage our Stress?
To regulate harmful stress levels before they negatively impact our health and wellbeing, we can develop both emotion-focused and problem-focused coping skills. Emotion-focused coping targets your feelings in a certain situation and can be helpful when you cannot, or prefer not to, change the surrounding circumstances. Taking an emotion-based approach, your stress might be managed through:
- taking a bubble bath or shower
- practicing yoga or meditation
- going for a walk
- doing breathing exercises
- doodling or drawing
- drinking a cup of tea
- exercising/going to the gym
- taking a nap
- coloring in a coloring book
- listening to your favorite song
- watching a funny movie
- playing with your pet
On the other hand, problem-focused coping addresses the root cause of a situation and aims to redress it. Taking a problem-based approach, your stress might be managed through:
- talking to your partner about the situation and possible solutions
- making to-do lists
- writing yourself reminders
- setting your alarm to wake up earlier for work
- preparing meals ahead of time
- setting healthy boundaries
- using a watch to keep better track of time
- leaving for work/school earlier than usual
- writing important dates down in a planner
- leaving stressful situations
- creating a budget to follow
If you notice overwhelming stress levels are having a negative impact on your life or the life of someone you love, we are here to help. Here at The Center for Anxiety and Behavior Management, we have therapists who specialize in stress-management, anxiety, depression, and helping you develop healthy coping skills. We know life can be stressful, but you are never alone. Please call us at (908) 914-2624 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment so that we can help you manage your stress and regain control of your life.