Stress. We have all experienced it, but how do we know if it is toxic or beneficial?
Everyone will experience stress in one form or another during their lifetime. Stress is the body’s physical, mental, or emotional response when presented with a threat or challenge.
This can be caused by both external (environmental, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, medical procedure) factors. When the body experiences stress, it causes a “fight or flight” response. This process causes the body to release a range of hormones that either enables it to stay and deal with a threat (fight) or to run away to safety (flight).
Stress, when dealt with properly, is a perfectly normal response in which most people experience every day – referred to as Good Stress.
Positive Effects of Good Stress:
– Help meet daily challenges
– Motivates you to reach your goals
– Accomplish tasks more efficiently
– Boost memory
– Vital warning system
However, when one experiences stress for too long or does not know how to deal with it, it can lead to severe long term health effects – referred to as Bad or Chronic Stress
When one experiences emotional stress for weeks or even months, the immune system can become severely weakened, therefore causing a variety of negative effects.
Negative Effects of Bad/Chronic Stress:
– High blood pressure
– Weight gain/loss
– Autoimmune illnesses
– Problems with digestion
– Heart diseases
– Cell regeneration
It can be challenging sometimes to distinguish between good or bad stress.
When stress starts to become chronic, you may experience:
– Difficulty in concentrating
– Memory problems
– Racing thoughts
– Body Aches
– Catching the common cold or other illnesses more frequently
– Frequent headaches
– Increased irritability
– Appetite suppression / increased appetite
– Increased episodes of anger or anxiety
– Inability to fall asleep
– Increased fatigue
If either you or someone you know has experienced any of the above symptoms, there are a few things you can do to prevent it from escalating and reclaim your healthy, happy self-back. These include:
Understanding your triggers:
The original cause of stress or its triggers are different from person to person. It is important to find somewhere quiet and just reflects on when you first started experiencing the stress. These can be specific people, events, or places that invoke this unhealthy stress. Try and uncover why it has made you stressed and if there are any ways you can avoid or change the situations, places, or people that cause it.
Ask yourself questions such as:
Can I communicate with those around me that certain situations are unpleasant? Can I stop an activity that is amplifying this stress?
Can I remove myself from the situation or people that are causing this stress?
Is this something I can deal with differently, to minimize or alleviate the stress?
If you cannot remove yourself from the situation, but rather manage it differently, here are some exercises to do to reduce the stress:
Different techniques to reduce stress:
While sometimes it can be impossible to eliminate all bad stress out of your life, there are exercises (or tools in your toolkit) to use when you are feeling stressed:
When the body is under stress, the heart rate becomes elevated, breathing speeds up and digestion slows down. When this occurs, a great way to reduce the process is slowing down your breath. Box breathing is a great technique to use. This includes closing your eyes and imagining you are drawing an imaginary box in your mind using your breath.
Breathe in through your nose for four seconds (or counts) and imagine drawing the base of your box
1. Hold your breath for four seconds (or counts) and imagine with a very second you are drawing the side of your box
2. Exhale for four seconds (counts) and imagine drawing the top of your box
3. Hold your breath for four seconds and imagine drawing the last side
4. Repeat 3-4 times or until you feel calmer
2. Reduce Caffeine Intake:
Caffeine increases your heart rate, which can amplify the feelings associated with stress. Since stress causes the heart rate to increase naturally, you want to minimize this in any way you can. Reducing or cutting out any substances that cause your heart rate to increase can have a big effect on your reaction to stress.
3. Physical Exercise:
Any physical exercise, particularly when done for more than 15min, is a great way to get rid of stress. When you exercise, your brain (specifically your pituitary gland) increases its ‘feel-good neurotransmitters’, referred to as endorphins. Endorphins have a similar effect to opioids, by relieving pain and producing a feeling of euphoria. Exercise also improves your cardiovascular, digestive, and immune systems, all of which become impaired with chronic stress.
4. Time management:
When there are big deadlines that need to be met, most of us can experience stress. By writing down everything that needs to be accomplished, and prioritizing what is urgent, the workload can be evenly spread across a few days instead of cramming it in on one or two days. This can also be an excellent technique to schedule time for regular exercise or breaks.
Meditation has been shown by numerous studies to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. When you meditate, you focus your attention on one thing, thereby reducing/eliminating the multiple thoughts that may cause stress. It also decreases heart rate.
6. Reach out to someone:
Reaching out to friends or a family member can be a great way to unpack what is going on. Just the act of talking about a stressful situation can be a great physiological release. If it is severe, or you do not feel comfortable confiding in your friends/family, book an appointment with a local counselor or support group.