When was the last time you have felt “stressed out”? Was it today? Everyone experiences stress in their lives for lots of different reasons.
So, what is stress, exactly?
Stress is a natural reaction in your body to changes that require you to adjust or respond. The stress response is physical tension in the body or mental tension. It’s feeling overwhelmed when life’s pressures become unmanageable and you find yourself not knowing what to do.
Types of Stress
There is some stress that is useful, in the case of good stress (referred to as “eustress”). Good stress happens when you are excited about something. Good stress mimics the symptoms of stress, such as increased heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, but there is no threat to safety. Good stress comes from things that you like to do and are exciting, such as riding a roller coaster, going on a first date, and interviewing for a new job.
Another type of stress is called “acute stress.” Acute stress is the type of stress you feel when you see a snake, have to quickly slam on your brakes, or somebody jumps out and scares you. It’s the short-term fight, flight or freeze response designed to protect you from dangerous situations.
Chronic stress is a form of “bad” stress that happens when it seems that stressful events happen repeatedly and it starts to feel like there is no escape. Things like a stressful job, marital problems, and the COVID-19 pandemic, can bring on chronic stress. During chronic stress, it can feel like your body is a heightened alert or fight, flight, freeze response constantly. Your body stays alert even though there isn’t any danger.
Unhealthy ways stress shows up in our lives
Problems can occur when chronic stress is experienced and it seems like there is no relief. When people experience chronic stress for an extended period of time, it can start to create negative effects both physically and emotionally.
Another problem with chronic stress is that the stressed-out person may not be able to recognize the unhealthy effects stress is having on them, not to mention knowing what to do about it.
Here are some ways stress can show up
Stress has been shown to be a common trigger to headaches. If you are experiencing more frequent headaches than usual, you may be experiencing too much stress!
Aches and Pains
It’s common for people who are stressed out to complain of pain in their neck and shoulders. Some experience chronic back pain. Stress can cause you to involuntarily tense up the muscles in your body, and also increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol which is associated with chronic pain.
Low Energy, Can’t Sleep
This can be a tough loop to break. High levels of stress can cause racing thoughts and ruminating (negative thought loops), heightened alertness, among other things. That is exhausting, causing chronic fatigue and low energy levels. Stress can also keep you from sleeping due to racing thoughts, or cause sleep to be disrupted, further adding to low energy levels.
Some research studies have shown an association between high levels of stress and digestive issues such as constipation and diarrhea. Studies have also shown that stress may play a role in the severity of digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Changes in Eating
There are “stress eaters” who tend to eat more and gain weight when they experience high levels of stress. Others completely lose their appetite completely and eat much less and lose weight when they are stressed.
Depression and/or Anxiety
Depression and anxiety both have multiple causes. Genetics, chemical imbalance, and life situations are each contributing factors. If you are not coping well with stressful life situations, the overwhelm can definitely increase the risk of depression and/or anxiety developing.
If you begin to have thoughts of suicide due to high levels of stress, it’s important to seek medical intervention immediately.
Do you find yourself snapping at your family and friends more often than usual? Does your fuse seem a little bit shorter? High levels of stress may be behind this change in mood!
The way a person experiences stress and the impact it has is unique to each individual. There are a variety of ways stress can show up in your life. And while it’s inevitable that stress is experienced by everyone on some level, with the added global stress of COVID-19, changing school and work situations, it’s important to be aware if you or your loved ones are noticing changes in behavior that could be due to chronic stress.
Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
Are you recognizing some of the unhealthy signs of stress in yourself? Thankfully, there are lots of healthy ways to cope and relieve stress.
Self-care is not always bubble baths, massages, and pedicures … although it CAN be. Self-care means intentionally do the things that fill your cup and are helpful to YOU. Set boundaries, go to bed at the same time, be intentional about eating nutritious foods, and not drinking alcohol in excess. Stress eating and drinking may seem to provide some temporary relief, in the long-term it actually causes more stress, which is not the goal.
Meditation is about slowing down, learning to take control of your thoughts, and focusing on the moment. It takes some practice! Download a free app such as Calm or Headspace, or choose from many others that provide guided meditations for beginners. The more you practice meditation the better you get at it.
Meditation in times of high stress provides many benefits, including increasing self-awareness, growing your patience and tolerance, and even being able to see the stressful situation from a different perspective.
If you have an exercise routine, be intentional about following it. If you don’t, it’s a good time to start! Not only does exercise have benefits to your health, it has some direct benefits for beating stress. Exercise releases a chemical in your brain called endorphins. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals that elevate mood and reduce pain. Even better, exercise actually helps reduce the levels of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) in your body. Yoga, walking, jogging, aerobics are all great options.
Fun and Relaxing
Make time to rest, do something you enjoy, spend time with family and friends, and laugh! When creating a schedule for your day or week, include these things and treat them like an appointment. Life balance is important, and it’s easy to begin losing sight of relaxing, connecting and fun when you’re overwhelmed by stress.
Redeemed Life Counseling is here to help! Our therapists are skilled in helping people learn healthy ways to cope with stress.
Call or email us today to set up an appointment with a therapist who can help you.
940-222-8552 or email [email protected]