We all experience stress sometimes, but how much is too much? What do we do if our stress is affecting our health? Stress can be linked to many health issues, from digestive problems to high blood pressure, and even general aches and pains. Headaches from clenching your teeth? Sore neck and spine from poor posture due to tension? Blood pressure creeping up? Gaining weight? Do you hormones feel out of control? Read on.
Stress can be good for you. Yes, you read that correctly. Our bodies experience stress as a survival mechanism. If you were being chased by a bear, it is the stress response in our bodies that allow us to “fight or flight” – in other words, get away from that bear!
However, in this day in age, the majority of us are not running away from bears on a daily basis. Our stress is caused by deadlines, traffic, to do lists, difficult relationships, and issues in the workplace. The same stress response goes off in our bodies that would help us to run away from or fight off a bear. The problem with this is that we don’t use up the body’s responses, such as blood flow to the muscles that would make us run faster or be stronger, but instead cause our backs to be tight and our teeth to grind. Or, the disruption to the digestive system because it is not as important as other body systems (respiratory and musculoskeletal) at the moment of stress (a bear chasing you) can lead to chronic digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Another big issue with chronic stress is weight gain, or the inability to lose weight due to the hormone cortisol that is released during times of high stress. Cortisol is associated with belly fat, which can then lead to a whole array of other health problems.
One of the ways to combat this stress build up in the body is physical activity, especially after a stressful day. Getting the blood moving and heart and lungs working is a good way to use up that “fight or flight” response. Another great stress-relieving technique is to spend a few moments of quiet stillness, and step out of the mindset that is creating the stress that you feel and let your body relax.
The best practice to avoid stress-induced health problems is the learn how to manage stress before it catches up with you! Here are a few ways that you can beat stress before it beats you.
- Get enough sleep! When you are well rested, you are better equipped to deal with things that pop up in your day.
- Cool it on the caffeine. Caffeine can help boost your energy and motivation at times, but too much can cause anxiety, and disrupt sleep, which interferes with the first tip of getting enough sleep!
- Make lists. Grocery lists, to do lists, goal lists. . . anything! Write it down so you won’t forget, and it also helps get it out of your head when you put it down on paper (or in your phone, on your computer, tablet, etc.).
- Use a day planner. This is a good place to keep all of your lists, and it also helps to keep track of important dates! You can use a notebook-style one or an App on your phone, but just remember to use it!
- Stay on top of organization. There is such a thing as “organized chaos” if you a self-proclaimed messy person, however the key word there is organized. Figure out a system that works for you and stick to it.
- Prioritize. Lists can become overwhelming without prioritization. Organize your lists by what is most important to what is least important to avoid adding more stress in your efforts to manage it!
- Communicate well. There are whole books on how to communicate more effectively, but basically, if you avoid miscommunications in work and relationships, you will avoid a lot of stress.
- Have a schedule or routine, but be flexible with it. Wake up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, stick to your evenig gym session, have lunch with coworkers on Fridays, but if something comes up and you have to move some things around, be O.K. with that, too.
- Learn to say no. There is nothing more stressful than having your plate full of things that you don’t even want to do. Saying no can be hard, but you’ll be happy (and less stressed!) that you did.
- Learn to let go. Sometimes things just plain don’t work out. Sometimes our expectations are too high for other people or situations. Sometimes we’re holding on to things that no longer serve us. This could be an old friend who’s negativity always brings you down, or a job you hate, or even a car that is constantly breaking down. It’s time to let it all go, and watch the stress melt away.