Stress is your body’s natural response to any kind of threat or attack. Ordinarily, you overlook multiple conflicts every day in your professional or personal life, such as financial issues, a confrontation with your peer, or an argument with your partner.
These issues are considered as threats by your body. Your body is programmed with a stress response mechanism to take an impulsive action in the face of a potential threat.
Stress responses help you stay alert and have enough energy and focus. Stress can be a lifesaver in critical times by giving you a push to defend yourself. The pressure to meet challenges keeps you on your toes consistently.
Your body is ingrained with the ability to cope with adverse situations by releasing those hormones that prepare you for a response.
Stress situations are subjective. In the ordinary course of events, a minimal amount of stress helps you accomplish your goals.
Whenever there is a slight deviation in the stress levels, the body’s ability to cope with stress is derailed. This causes an abnormal upsurge in the levels of the stress hormones, keeping the body perpetually in a stressed condition.
Our body works on a principle similar to that of the pressure cooker. Perpetual stress situations enveloping inside the mind are likely to affect the entire body and can lead to an outburst if not tended to.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than half of the Americans suffer from too much stress.
Causes of Stress
Stress can stem from different situations that can range from emotional (such as loss of a loved one, divorce, and relationship issues) to physical (such as being bullied, fear of something dangerous, and chronic illness).
Stress can engender negativity and deteriorate your mental health. Stress situations can be a result of any external or internal factor that can coerce a person to dive deep into extreme despondency.
Most of the times, we inflict a self-imposed form of stress on our self by self-depreciation, deliberating, getting stuck on previous incidents of trauma or fear, and unreasonable negativity.
“Fight and Flight” Response
We are well aware of the phrase “fight or flight,” which describes our response in emergency situations. All humans and even animals have been equipped with hormonal responses to counter stressful situations.
This is a response to an unconducive environment that is bound to put you in jeopardy, similar to conditions such as fear, performance pressure, and physical injury.
Your body naturally responds with an outburst of energy to prepare you for an impulsive reaction. This is activated by the immediate release of adrenaline and cortisol hormones-to survive the situation (fight) or escape it all together (flight).
Once you have faced the situation, the hormonal levels return to normal.
In stress conditions, your body continually feels attacked and, hence, keeps the stress responses turned on. Once you are aware of the stressor, you can easily grapple it and face the situation.
The significant factors that can cause a buildup of stress are listed below:
Personal stress involves a significant disturbance in the course of your relationships. It can be caused by overwhelming life events such as:
- Post pregnancy stress
- Illness or injury
- Personal appearance
- Long-term health issues
- A past traumatic incident
- Death of a loved one
- Going through a broken relationship or betrayal
- Marital upheaval
- Being a caregiver of a person who requires a good deal of support for survival
Excessive noise, crowding, and pressure from work, family, or society can contribute to stress due to an environmental imbalance. Some possible causes of stress from the environment can be:
- A dysfunctional family
- Importunate work demands
- Being bullied
- A conflicting relationship with family members
- Inability to adhere to the high standards of society
- Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation
- Unsafe neighborhoods
- Living in a crime-ridden city
Identifying environmental stressors and learning to avoid them can help you deal with your stress levels better and develop emotional resilience.
Cerebration is thought to be the mother of breakthrough technologies and wonderful inventions. However, thinking about things that can emotionally exhaust your energies is most certainly not healthy for you.
Excessive retrospection can put you in a stressful situation where you are consistently worried about things that are out of your control. This stress can result from conditions such as:
- Shifting houses
- Hostile neighbors
- Poor standards of living
- Being a victim of natural disasters
Work stress is ingrained in your professional life, but dwelling on it can affect you in the long run. The will to consummate your aspirations can be so great that you try to undermine your health in the process.
This can cause stress that can endanger your personal and social health. Work stress can result from:
- Being a workaholic
- An unsatisfying job
- An approaching work deadline
- A nagging superior
- An excessive workload
- Performance pressure
- Conflicts at the workplace
- New job
- A toxic and hostile workplace environment
- Improper time management
Some people become addicted to the kind of tense lifestyle that results from being under continuous stress.
Work stress can take a hard toll on your productivity and performance at all levels. You need to understand the reasons for stress that originate from the workplace to deal with them.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
Stress situations can cause an influx of the stress-inducing hormones adrenaline and cortisol in your blood flow, which is generated by an external stimulus.
These hormones bring about the “fight or flight” response to counter the stress situation. The normal stress response is marked by changes such as rapid heartbeat, flushed skin, and a rise in blood sugar.
Stress can elicit responses that can affect your physical, emotional, and mental health.
- Heart ailments
- Fluctuations in weight
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Low energy
- Loss of sex drive
- Upset stomach
- Frequent infections
- Grinding teeth
- Avoiding social interaction
- Getting frequently agitated and irritated
- Low self-esteem
- Binging on negativity
- Contemplating unpleasant thoughts
- Anger and violent behavior
- Staying extra vigilant
- Lack of motivation
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Inability to focus
- Inability to be productive
Elevated levels of stress can affect your physical well-being and cause you to be unreasonably pessimistic.
Types of Stress
Stress is a feeling that you can encounter on a daily basis. Stress can be categorized as acute, episodic acute, and chronic according to their duration and severity:
Acute stress: Is stress that you face on a daily basis. Acute stress is short lived. It is the jittery feeling you have when you do something out of the box or new to you.
Acute stress can be felt in events such as an argument with your peers, an upcoming deadline, having a confrontation with your significant other, or embarking on a new venture.
Your body is hardwired to counter such transient situations. Everyone faces acute stress at one time or another in their lives.
Episodic acute stress: Is marked by frequent episodes of acute stress. Such a person might always be unorganized and in a hurry and feel burdened by the overload of responsibilities.
This might be a result of anxiety and excessive contemplation about things that might happen in present and future or may have occurred in the past.
Individuals facing episodes of acute stress are gripped by aggressiveness, a sense of urgency, behavioral resistance, and emotional distress.
Chronic stress: Any type of stress that goes on for a continuous period ranging from weeks to months is chronic stress.
Chronic stress can occur in situations such as financial issues, a taxing job, a demanding work-life balance, a dysfunctional family, unemployment, violence, traumatic experiences, and repeated abuse in any form.
Chronic stress can be so familiar to your state of mind that you might be experiencing it while being oblivious to your situation. It can lead to severe irreversible consequences, which can be detrimental to your health.
The incompetence to manage chronic stress can lead to health problems including chronic conditions such as hypertension, headaches, depression, and anxiety disorders. It can also worsen existing health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, and asthma.
In its entirety, chronic stress can strain your emotional, physical, mental, and social well-being. The unrelenting pressure degrades your mental and physical faculties.
Recognizing Your Stress Triggers
Perpetual stress conditions can derail you from a healthy outlook on you and your surroundings.
If you’re not sure about the underlying cause of your stress, keep a diary and take a note of your stressful episodes for 2 to 4 weeks. Then, review it to spot the triggers.
The things you might want to write down include:
- The date, time, and place of a stressful episode
- What you were doing
- Who you were with
- How you felt emotionally
- What you were thinking
- How you felt physically
Give your stress a rating to determine the intensity of the mental turmoil you are going through (0–10, where 10 is the most stressed you could ever feel).
You can use the diary to:
- Analyze the possible stressors that trigger your stress
- Identify your behavioral patterns during a stress episode
- Determine how you can cope better with your stress
Your doctor may recommend keeping a jotter to help you diagnose the stress based on your stressors and the behavioral patterns.
Treatment for Stress
Stress situations can keep you brooding and worried about the known or unknown conflicts you might be facing.
This can degrade your health to certain degrees, affecting you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Stress can be managed by changes in lifestyle, a healthy diet, and following some conventional ways to relax your mind.
Medication should always be the last option (even when prescribed by your GP) due to the potential adverse effects associated with them.
The preferred choice of drugs prescribed for stress treatment includes the benzodiazepine group of medicines (such as Xanax), antidepressants (such as Prozac and Lexapro), and sleeping medications (such as Doriden and Noludar).
- Some medicines are addictive and long-term use should be avoided.
- They can be associated with several health risks and should be only used when prescribed by licensed healthcare providers.
- Combining multiple drugs with alcohol can result in coma or death.
Tips to Manage Stress
Stress can demolish your personal and professional life to magnitudes you can’t even imagine.
The key to avoiding a stressful situation is, first, the acceptance of reality even if it is seemingly inconvenient. Once you have effectively perceived the truth, things will be smooth, and you would no longer be bothered about things you can’t control.
Second, relax your mind by decluttering your brain of all the negativity and unwanted thoughts.
You can follow some general tips listed below to relax your mind and bounce back from the clutches of stress:
- Try to engage in healthy conversations with your partner, friends, and family who can help you get clarity on your perception of your condition. Pour your heart out to them. They will lend you a nonjudgmental ear and will help you communicate your fears and apprehensions.
- Do away with dwelling on negative thoughts. Embrace optimism and assertiveness.
- Foster positive relationships that can help you become calmer and more optimistic.
- Declutter your surroundings. This will keep you more relaxed, focused, and motivated.
- Limit your Internet and phone usage. Step out and engage in some social interaction.
- Ensure you enjoy a sound sleep between 7 and 8 hours. Rest is a natural stress buster.
- Follow a workout regimen to rejuvenate yourself. Take a walk for 30 minutes, hit the gym, or do yoga.
- Limit your consumption of caffeine, nicotine, and sugar. Abstain from smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Include whole grains, proteins, and sources of omega-3-fatty acids, such as walnuts and salmon, to improve your mood and fight stress. Also, increase the intake of foods rich in vitamin C and B
- Aromatherapy can alleviate stress and help destress by uplifting your mood and acting as a relaxant.
- Take up a calming hobby you can revel in, such as knitting, working on puzzles, reading, and singing. These can help you focus your energy in the right direction.
- Give yourself a detox from work. Take a break once in a while. A breezy vacation or a long relaxing weekend without any deadlines on your agenda can reenergize you.
Prolonged periods of anticipative stress can affect your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Recurrent and prolonged episodes of stress can put you in a state of perturbation.
Stress is known to be a causative factor of many health problems. It can be a possible reason for worsening existing illnesses.
The long-term effects of stress can be an impediment in your well-being and productivity by degrading the quality of your life. They can be listed as follows:
- Anxiety disorders These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorders, and specific phobias. PTSD is mostly associated with traumatic events such as physical or sexual abuse, witnessing a violent crime, and severe accidents. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.
- Sleep disorders are characteristic of irregular sleeping patterns that can affect your state of well-being. Some sleep disorders include insomnia, bruxism (teeth grinding while sleeping), sleep apnea, somnambulism (sleepwalking), and narcolepsy (spontaneous sleeping).
- Depression has been linked to reduced levels of dopamine. Dopamine regulates sleep, appetite, energy, sex drive, and normal emotions and moods. Sustained periods of stress have been linked to reduced levels of dopamine.
- Heart diseases caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and fluctuations in weight.
- Digestive issues can be sparked up by stress due to the hormonal influx that can lead to cramping, inflammation, and decreased blood flow. This can further aggravate gastrointestinal disorders, including peptic ulcers and irritable or inflammatory bowel syndrome.
- Fluctuations in body weight due to stress eating or changes in metabolic activity.
- Diabetes type 2 can be caused by high sugar levels in the blood. A consistent stress condition can drive the blood sugar levels up due to the action of the stress hormones.
- Memory decline, forgetfulness, and loss of concentration have been identified with chronic stress conditions.
- Burnout is a gradual process of prolonged stress conditions when an individual is physically, emotionally, and mentally drained. Burnout can sap out your vitality, leaving you exhausted and embittered.
When to See a Doctor
Stress becomes a cause of concern once it takes over your normal routine. You seem to be in a persistent pessimistic undertone that is affecting your feelings, thoughts, actions, and, in turn, your health, career, and relationships.
A visit to a doctor is recommended to know about the possible causes. He might prescribe you any medication if required and/or refer you to a professional counselor or therapist to help you cope with your stress situation.
Also, if you experience symptoms such as pain in the chest, shortness of breath, palpitations, pain radiating to your arm and shoulder, or existing symptoms that are worsening, seek emergency help immediately. This might be indicative of a heart attack or any other serious health problem.
Alternative Cures and Remedies to Deal with Stress
Stress can wreak havoc on your body and produce dire consequences, including burnout. This can affect the progress, health, and happiness of you and your family.
Several lifestyle and dietary changes, and physical activities have been proposed as ways to combat stress to help you to get back on your feet.
Most of these methods are used in group therapies nowadays with high success rates.
Outlined below are these researched and demonstrated ways that you can introduce in your life to reduce your stress.
Role of Physical Activity in Fighting Stress
1. Sweat out Your Stress with Daily Exercise
You will always be in a win-win situation if you are a person with a regular exercise routine. Regular exercise encourages you to stay focused. The focus is the cornerstone of stress management.
Once you are focused, you can adequately address any kind of situation that comes your way.
Regular exercise can work as a great stress reliever, be it aerobic or moderate-or high-intensity exercise. A 30-minute brisk walk or a gym session can help reduce the cortisol levels and increase the “feel good” endorphins in your body.
Regular exercise can uplift your mood and help you zoom out to a point where you can get the best possible view of things. It encourages the mind and body to work together in harmony. Try to make time to do different activities when you are under stress.
You can just take a short walk, swim, dance, or play some sports. You can also practice yoga to fight stress. Yoga utilizes deep breathing and meditation, which enhance your ability to focus irrespective of any situation.
A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Backentive Medicine, demonstrated that regular hatha yoga exercise significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and depression in women when undertaken in 12 sessions of intervention.
2. Take a Walk
Walking has been related to a multiplicity of benefits. You can always take a short stroll to jerk off your stress. Just a 10-to 15-minute walk can help calm your mind and body. Walking boosts endorphins, which are chemicals that promote feelings of euphoria.
Walking in a park or other natural areas with aesthetic appeal can have added benefits.
A 2015 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine highlights that a green environment is linked to emotional resilience from stress.
3. Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises are focused on intertwining the mind and body, infusing the person with elevated energy levels and revitalizing the antioxidant status of the body in the process.
Practicing slow and deep breathing can reduce your cortisol levels and help your body relax when you are under stress. It can even cause a temporary drop in your blood pressure and reduce anxiety.
A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Yoga, supported the positive impact of modified slow breathing exercises for twelve weeks on perceived stress and cardiovascular parameters.
Practice deep breathing as instructed below:
- Sit in a comfortable posture. Put your hands on your abdomen and try to relax your muscles.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your abdomen and then filling your lungs with air. Count slowly to 5.
- Hold your breath and count to 3.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth and empty your lungs completely. Count slowly to 5 and try to release your muscle tension.
- Repeat these steps for 5 to 10 minutes.
This exercise is an integral part of various yoga poses. It is recommended to practice yoga to diffuse negativity from your thought process.
Lifestyle Changes to Deal with Stress
1. Listen to Soothing Music
Music works as a natural regulator of stress and helps clear your mind of anxiety.
The downpour of rain, the rippling and bubbling of flowing water, and various other sounds that exist in nature have a relaxing effect, mainly when mixed with light jazz or classical music. On the other hand, faster music can make you feel more alert and help you concentrate better.
In times of stress and anxiety, listen to soft and soothing music to reduce your stress hormone levels, slow your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure.
A study, conducted within a sample size of 58 stress-induced participants, determined the effects of music on anxiety and stress levels.
The participants underwent a recovery period-as a control group (silent resting) and experimental group (listening to their preferred music). Participants in the experimental group showed reduced levels of self-reported states of depression, anxiety, pessimism, and higher levels of optimism.
If you can play a musical instrument, a few minutes of playing the guitar, piano, or any other musical instrument can help you calm your nerves and distract your thoughts.
2. Laugh Your Head off
Laughter therapy is one of the ways to calm yourself. It is a known fact that laughing can help to reduce stress, physical exhaustion, and fatigue. It lowers your cortisol levels, enhances your intake of oxygen, and stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, corroborated that laughter therapy was effective on fatigue and stress responses of postpartum women.
Watching a funny movie or a video is a fine relaxation technique. If you are often under stress, join a comedy club in your area to engage yourself in some laughter therapy.
3. Get a Massage
A gentle yet firm massage soothes your body and relaxes your mind. The soft touch reduces pain and contributes to stress release. So, the next time you are anxious or stressed, get a good massage.
A 2010 study published in Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic & Clinical, demonstrated that 5 minutes of touch massage significantly reduces the body’s stress response.
If you can’t get a professional massage done, just use some warm oil of your choice to massage your feet, hands, back, and head to relax the tense muscles and reduce stress.
4. Unplug and Go Offline
Technology has taken a toll on our lives, and we have restricted ourselves to screens. This includes smartphones, TV, laptops, and tablets. We have kept our social interactions to a minimum.
Habitual use of smartphones is a major contributing factor in increasing stress.
You can experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety during digital social exchanges. It can also cause elevated levels of aggression, depression, and inability to concentrate. The pressure to stand out on social media is also a prevalent cause of stress.
A study found out that moderate or severe depression level was associated with longer durations of TV and computer screen viewing among US adults.
Limit your screen time. Go out and spend time with people. Indulge in some activities that you enjoy.
Take out some time for your relationships. Simple one-on-one conversations can help you relieve some stress.
Dietary Recommendations to Manage Stress
1. Drink a Cup of Green Tea
It also contains an amino acid that promotes relaxation and strengthens your focus and attention. It’s recommended to opt for a low-caffeine green tea to avoid consuming too much caffeine
A 2017 study published in Nutrients, conducted on middle-aged individuals to reduce stress and improve their quality of sleep, highlighted the effects of low-caffeine green tea (LCGT) intake. The anti-stress effect of green tea is attributed to the low levels of caffeine.
2. Eat Some Dark Chocolate
To relieve stress, you can always rely on dark chocolate. It helps release “happy chemicals” known as beta-endorphins in the brain.
Dark chocolate helps reduce the level of stress hormones in your body. Additionally, the magnesium in it works as a stress buster.
A 2014 study demonstrated that consumption of 40 g of dark and milk chocolate daily for 2 weeks effectively reduced perceived stress in females.
Another study by the American Chemical Society, conducted on a sample of highly stressed individuals, found that dark chocolate reduces the levels of emotional stress. Eating about 1½ ounces of dark chocolate every day for 2 weeks helped ease the tension.
To fight stress, make sure you are eating chocolates that contain more than 85% cocoa.
3. Start Chewing Gum
It’s surprisingly simple, but you can chew your favorite gum to help reduce the amount of cortisol in your body and release stress. It can even reduce anxiety and can improve alertness and performance scores.
A study published in Physiology & Behavior found that chewing gum alleviated pessimistic thought process and reduced cortisol levels during acute laboratory psychological stress.
4. Relax with Some Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea is a popular herb, well known for its calming and soothing effects on the central nervous system. It has a sedative effect and helps relax the muscles, ease anxiety, and promotes better sleep.
A study conducted in 2007 demonstrated the calming effects of chamomile using warm chamomile jelly. Individuals who were given warm chamomile jelly had higher relaxation scores and improved sleep consciousness in comparison with those people who were given chamomile-free jelly.
- You can drink up to 4 cups of chamomile tea a day to fight stress. Add two teaspoons of dried chamomile to a cup of hot water. Let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain and add raw honey according to your taste.
- You can also add fresh chamomile flowers or a few drops of chamomile essential oil to warm bathwater for a nerve-soothing soak.
5. Drink Ashwagandha Latte
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng and Withania somnifera, is a herb popularly known for its ability to help fight stress. It is also known to augment physical endurance and metabolism without any adverse effects.
A 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine corroborated the synergistic effects of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Ashwagandha root lowers the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
The root of ashwagandha is readily available in fresh, dried, and powdered forms or even as a supplement.
The recommended dose is 1 to 2 grams of the fresh or dried root boiled in 1 cup of milk or water, three times daily. Consult your doctor if you wish to take supplements.
6. Up Your Vitamin B Complex Intake
Vitamin B complex is a group of vitamins that is primarily found in meat, beans, bananas, and whole grains. It is associated with a wide range of impact on cognitive performance, cardiovascular health, normal metabolism, and neural health.
VitaminsB5, B6, B9, and B12 have been implemented as a therapeutic prospect to reduce stress and fatigue levels, induce relaxation, and promote neurological functions.
Stress multiplies the physiological demands of the body. Perpetual periods of stress can lead to increased metabolic activity. Improper diet and unhealthy eating patterns can worsen your stress conditions.
1. Spend Time with Your Pet
Pet animals have undeniably been a source of companionship for many. Spending time with your pet can elevate your energy levels.
You will become calmer and more composed as you cuddle and play with your pet. You can also open up to your pets about your concerns and intuitions without being judged.
Talk to your pets about your thought process and take his wagging and licking as a response. Caress him while doing so. Talking to your pet can relax your mind and reduce the production of stress-inducing cortisol.
The physical touch involved while caressing your pet helps reduce stress. You are likely to laugh at your furry friend’s funny activities frequently.
A Final Word
Persistent stress conditions can dismantle the smooth neurobiological mechanism of your body to overcome emergency situations. The unprecedented sur of stress-inducing hormones can put relentless pressure on your mind and body, leaving you drained entirely.
Tend to your stress issues by introducing these scientifically substantiated ways in your routine. Bust your stress with this approach and claw your way back into a normal life.
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