Most people experience some stress in their lives. And if you live in Southern California, you probably deal with at least a little bit of stress every day. In fact, you’re so used to it, you may not even notice it’s there, even when you’re stuck in traffic, already 15 minutes late for work, and your teeth are clenched, and you’ve got a pounding headache.
Sound familiar? Take a few minutes to learn more about stress and how you can have less of it!
What Is Stress?
Stress can feel different for everyone, but stress isn’t just something in your head. It’s how your body and brain reacts to a situation that causes you fear or anxiety. Sometimes the situation is in your environment or your body – even your own thoughts can cause stress.
Stress isn’t always bad and it isn’t always caused by negative situations. Stress can help you in unsafe situations, like speeding up your reflexes to avoid a car accident. Even positive life events, like getting a promotion or having a baby, can also cause stress.
Sometimes negative stress can have a positive effect on your life. For example, if you were stressed about your work commute, you might use that stress as motivation to find a better job closer to home. But any kind of stress can take its toll if you have it long enough.
What Are Common Stress Reactions?
Stress affects everyone differently, and the toll can be both physical and mental. Common physical symptoms include:
- Low energy
- Frequent colds and infections
- Clenched jaw
- Nervousness and shaking
- Digestive trouble
- Problems with sleep
Common mental symptoms include:
- Short temper
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Desire to keep to yourself and avoid other people
- Racing thoughts
- Low self-esteem
Why Is It Such a Big Deal?
Stress can cause long-term damage to your health, resulting in new or worsening health conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and even heart attack and stroke
- Mood disorders like depression and anxiety
- Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, or even permanent hair loss
- Hormone changes that may affect both physical and sexual health
Many people who deal with long periods of stress may try relieving it by engaging in risky behaviors, including too much alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, or overeating. Even if feels good in the short term, these behaviors can cause additional stress and harm on the body.
Tips for Minimizing and Managing Your Stress
You’re probably never going to be able to get rid of all of the stressors in your life. The key is to deal with stress in a healthy way – which means trying to take control of your reaction to stress. Here are a few tips for how to have less of it and how to make your stress less harmful.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “fight or flight.” This phrase refers to your body’s natural survival response to stressors. It’s that split-second reaction you have in the face of stress to either confront or retreat from it. This response serves you in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, sometimes your mind/body struggles to understand the difference between a tiger and a tight deadline. Too much time spent in this state intensifies your body’s reaction to stress.
So how about short-circuiting it? When you start to feel stress coming on, find a quiet space, and take a few minutes to focus on your breathing and calm your thoughts. This will help stop your fight or flight response, and allow you get back to the task at hand.
Fight the urge to isolate yourself from others. This is the time to lean on your social network for emotional support. Even a quick cup of tea with a friend can help you shift your mindset so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. (Note: if you’re feeling jittery or on edge, limit your caffeine intake until your stress levels improve.)
Set Limits and Stick to Them
Recognize the stressors that you can control in your life…like when your neighbor drops by at the last minute with her three kids and asks if you could watch them for a couple of hours, or the friend who asks you to drive out of your way to pick something up for them. Tactfully say, “No, I can’t.”
Learn How to Manage Your Time
Find ways to create efficiency, both at home and at work. You might find a new way to organize things. Try creating a weekly schedule and posting it in an area where the whole family can see it. When you’re at work and you get an email with a request that you can complete in two or three minutes, do it immediately instead of letting your tasks pile up.
Stick to Your Healthful Habits
Make sure you’re getting at least 7-8 hours of restful sleep. Almost any kind of exercise is a stress reliever – you don’t even have to leave your home to get a great workout that will leave you energized and feeling better. If you’re having trouble keeping up, you can find apps that will send you reminders and help make it easier to stay on track.
Get Help If You Need It
If stress is keeping you from enjoying life, it might be time to seek professional assistance. Start by talking with your primary care doctor. They may have some tips or advice for you, and they can also refer you to AltaMed Behavioral Health Services.
If you’re not sure if stress is your problem or if you should see a doctor, you can call AltaMed Behavioral Health Services directly at 855- 425-1777. We can help you find answers so you can get the care that’s right for you. Take a deep breath…together, we’ve got this.