Stress is everywhere, and when it’s situational usually not something to concern yourself with and can be a good thing; however, when stress gets overwhelming it can cause major problems. With COVID-19 as the dominate systematic stressor, therapists and psychiatrists have seen a vast increase in people seeking help.
Stress affects people differently. Some overeat, over-exercise, withdraw from friends or family, experience muscle tension, and so much more. When your body deals with chronic stress, it can have a profound effect on your mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical health. It can create a flight or flight response and maybe even a freeze response, where someone withdraws from life, not knowing how to deal with stress.
If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Learn about the signs and symptoms of stress overload and what solutions you can consider, including first aid mental health, diet, exercise, and sleep.
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Stress isn’t all bad. It can hep you stay focused on a project or can be due to a celebration such as a wedding or birth. These types of stress are situational and often leave once you remove the stress. If you didn’t have stress hormones, your body would never go into survival mode and chances are, it could be fatal, depending on the severity of the threat.
Keep in mind that the brain doesn’t know how to differentiate between good and bad stress, so it reacts to any stress with the same hormones flooding your nervous system. It’s a great motivator for events that need concentration or additional energy. But, when the stress never leaves, your stress response stays on, and you can develop a disorder that usually requires therapy.
When stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline enter your bloodstream, you can experience unsettling effects. These symptoms can be anywhere from uncomfortable to scary, as you imagine the worst. However, these hormones are there to protect you, as they put you in a fight or flight mode, prepping you to act. Now, millions of years ago when humans had to fight for survival, this was a very much-needed tool, but now, it’s rarely needed—unless you really are fighting for your life.
Stress can take a toll on your health, especially on your gut. When your stomach is tense, it can cause digestive issues and an overall ill feeling. Interestingly, your stomach has its own brain that communicates with your higher brain; therefore, both connect to each other. When you feel sick, your brain gets the message and takes appropriate action, such as eliminating a foreign substance or virus through your mouth or the other end. Therefore, when people are under high stress, it can make them physically sick.
Other effects from stress include:
- Headaches or migraines
- Neck tension
- Rapid heartbeat
When stress becomes too much or long-term, other symptoms start to develop, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other illnesses and diseases. It can also cause depression and anxiety, which can evolve into an anxiety or panic disorder, a conditioned state.
So, what can you do to calm your stress response? There are many tools you can utilize for destressing and learning to reduce the fight or flight response from staying stuck on.
What Are the Best Ways To Manage Stress?
When dealing with too much stress, there are various things to look at with your lifestyle: diet, sleep, and exercise. They can clue you into your stress response. Have you ever wondered why one person can slough off stress and another person it wreaks havoc on their life? This is likely due to how they allow stress to control them. Were you an anxious child? Better yet, how did your parents deal with stress? Did they react to it by catastrophic thinking or getting stomach aches, or did they use tools to mitigate it and not let it affect them adversely?
Discovering how your parents or other relatives handled stress will help you understand your own stress response. Meanwhile, there are three things to look at and possibly make a change with: diet, exercise, and sleep.
Are you a stress eater? When stress starts to affect you, do you pick up a bag of chips, a candy bar, or down a box of chocolates? Consuming sugar has the same kind of effect that drugs have on your brain. It causes a rush that makes you feel good, but it doesn’t last, and you need more to get those feel-good endorphins. After eating like this for years, it can wear out your adrenal glands and cause you to flip out at even the smallest stress-inducing event. It’s important to look at your diet and consider adding in more fruits and vegetables and foods that are rich in the B-vitamins, which helps feed your nervous system and calm down the stress response.
Reducing your sugar intake, and especially your caffeine, can do wonders for your health. Since caffeine is already a stimulant, it can make anxiety worse and set up a stress>anxiety>stress loop that becomes cyclical. Instead of choosing that Big Mac and fries, try a loaded chicken salad that has plenty of greens and vegetables. It has less calories and is packed with vitamins and antioxidants.
Does the thought of exercise send you into a corner or are you a gym rat? If you love exercise, you already know the benefits it has on your mind and body; but did you know it also has a huge effect on stress? In fact, exercise is an excellent stress manager. It sends natural endorphins coursing through your body and helps with tension and anxiety and depression. Simply walking for 30 minutes daily can bring about the same benefits as doing cardio. Plus, it increases your vitamin-D levels and magnesium, which is also a natural muscle relaxer. If you don’t want to do strenuous exercise, yoga is a great alternative. It teaches you how to breathe properly and focus on your body. It also strengthens your muscles and helps you reduce stress.
A bad night’s sleep or not enough sleep can have a negative impact on your day, but chronic sleeplessness (insomnia) can reduce your ability to handle stress. Think about a mom with a newborn or small children. If the littles don’t sleep, neither does she. A good night’s sleep is crucial for health. The two main types of sleep are rapid-eye-movement (REM) and non-rapid-eye-movement or NREM sleep. REM is for dreams and is referred to as “active sleep.” When you sleep, you go through cycles or phases of sleep throughout the night. If you happen to wake up before a cycle finishes, it can disrupt the rest of your sleep; do this enough and it can set up a bad sleep pattern.
Monitor your sleep. If you have an Apple Watch or Fitbit, it can monitor for you. It will give you detailed information on your sleep (deep, REM, and restoration) for an overall score. To ensure you’re getting enough good sleep, explore your nightly routine. Are you staying up late on your phone or laptop? If so, it could be affecting your sleep. The white light may be signalling to your brain that it’s not time for sleep. Couple that with a late-night snack and the worries from that day or upcoming stresses and it can keep you up. To ensure you get enough of the deep and REM sleep, put away your electronics an hour before bed. Pick up a book, meditate, or write in your journal. Also, stick to the same bedtime routine, whether it’s a weekday or weekend. This keeps you in sync with your body and allows for a consistent sleep pattern. Getting enough proper sleep gives you energy to deal with stresses, which calms down your nervous system.
Get Relief from Your Stress With NYC Therapeutic Wellness
Appropriate stress is good, but chronic stress is not, so if you need help coping with the stresses in your life, we invite you to contact us today.
Our professional therapists have the tools you need to help with stress and anxiety. We are committed to getting you back to enjoying your life and managing stress healthily.
Ready to find the relief you’ve always wanted? Schedule an appointment with us.