It doesn’t take a pandemic, a struggling economy, or even any obvious personal turmoil to “validate” feelings of stress. Simply put, stress is often just part of how our bodies respond to change (sometimes, even good changes!). The hormones that trigger it are the same ones that cause our “fight or flight” response. By altering how you look at stress, however, you can change how it affects you. Curbing stress lies in recognizing its symptoms, discovering what changes cause it to occur, and deciding how to deal with it.
Obviously, overcoming stress is rarely “easy,” and different methods may work better for different people. But we hope you’ll find the following steps and suggestions helpful in addressing your own unique situation.
Step 1: Stop What You’re Doing
Breaking the stress response starts with recognizing the signs. There are many physical side effects, but common experiences include:
● Muscle tension or pain
● Stomach upset
● Increased heartbeat
● Rapid breathing
● Feeling overwhelmed
● Inability to focus
When you start to feel these symptoms, it’s important that you intervene. Admittedly, it’s not always easy to step away from a stressful situation, particularly if it involves work, school, etc. But allowing stress to become a regular part of your life, without managing it, can take a toll on your health. It weakens your heart, increases your risk of a heart attack, and can lead to weight gain, substance abuse, and social withdrawal. So, whenever possible, try and take a “time out” when the symptoms above set in.
Step 2: Breathe In and Out
In just about any situation where you start to feel stress, it can be helpful to focus on your breathing. Deep breathing exercises will help slow down your heart rate and release physical tension.
Step 3: Reflect on What Caused It
Once your breathing is under control, turn your focus to what activated your stress. Many things can cause stress, both positive and negative. Stress can come from something as simple as planning a night out with friends, or daily hassles like rush hour or navigating a crowded grocery store.
Stress triggers are categorized into four categories:
● Situational: Things like traffic, family visits or problems at work.
● Mental or emotional: Such as worrying about your health, anger at someone’s behavior, grief and fear.
● Physical: Reactions to injury, pain or stimulants like caffeine.
● Behavioral: Actions like yelling, crying or obsessive and excessive behaviors, such as overeating, smoking, or alcohol abuse.
Understanding what is responsible for your stress empowers you to overcome it.
Step 4: Choose How to React
When you are aware of where your stress is coming from, you can choose the appropriate action to alleviate it. You may need to explore a few stress management exercises to learn what works best for you.
Methods to relax and reduce stress include:
● Exercising and regular physical activity
● Socializing with friends and family
● Meditation, particularly body scan meditation
● Diaphragmatic (deep) breathing
● Guided imagery (imagining a calming place, person or time)
● Progressive muscle relaxation (tightening a muscle group, releasing it and repeating)
● Practicing mindfulness (being in the moment)
● Setting aside time for hobbies
You Can Control Stress
Working on these various techniques can help you halt stress in its tracks, giving you more energy to devote to the tasks and activities in your life that are meaningful to you.
That said, it’s important to remember that overcoming stress is never a challenge you have to face alone. If you need help with either the physical or mental aspects of ongoing stress, please reach out to a local counseling service, or contact Southeastern Med for help in booking a consultation with a certified physician or mental health professional.