Updated: Aug 29
Life has a lot of unique challenges for people that sometimes can feel overwhelming & lead to stress.
Stress is weird, it's like having too much healthy food, exercise & sleep (what an outrageous comparison?) we know we kind of need it, but too much of it can be a bad thing.
Let me explain further.
According to Ranabir & Reetu (2011), stress can be translated into the hormones that are elevated within our bodies, most notably cortisol. The importance of having these stress hormones gets us into action into a sort of fight or flight mode. Our psychosocial reactions to environmental factors (being woken up from bed, being mindful of traffic, walking up to a person we have a crush on, etc) allows us to respond in ways that ensure survival.
Stress activates other neurotransmitters we need in life like norepinephrine (alertness), serotonin (satisfaction), & acetylcholine (focus). Without stress, we wouldn't be able to respond to potential signs of dangers. Our ancestors had to rely on their stress elevating to be put into action to find scarce sources of food & to avoid man-eating predators (yikes, sounds stressful).
Stress is normal to have, it helps us be wary of things that impact our quality of life.
To be stressed is to show that you're concerned about something or someone. But too much exposure (natural or self-imposed) can be problematic.
Short-term stress is okay to have, but long-term stress can actually be harmful to our well-being. Too much stress can lead to binge-eating (Ranabir et al, 2011), lowers one's immune system (Dragos et al, 2010), there's less cognitive performance like remembering things, more emotional reactivity to stimuli, less willingness to socialize & too much stress can lead to the development of mental disorders like depression & anxiety (Buwalda et al, 2005).
Stress isn't fun, it can make life feel more difficult than it needs to be. But there are ways to manage it when it can start to feel overwhelming.
Here are six ways to cope with stress:
1. Incorporate consistent exercise in one's routine
Exercise is an amazing tool to utilize in not only looking good, but feeling good as well!
According to a study done for Psychiatry Research, researchers have found that a experimental group had less symptoms of anxiety than a control group (Stubbs et al, 2017). Exercise reduces the body's levels of adrenaline & cortisol as endorphins are built up which are known to elevate mood. With the added benefit of improved cardiovascular health, muscle development, & improved overall health, exercise is powerful to deal with the stressors of life.
Exercise doesn't have to be a training regimen as if you're preparing for the Olympics. It could include simple activities such as a nice walk, a hike, a bike ride, rock climbing, yoga, a weight training session, or playing a sport!
Consider bringing a friend to tag along to add even more fun to a day's worth of exercise.
2. Focus on breath work with breathing exercises
The use of breathing as a method to deal with stress is an underrated tool to manipulate one's body to be in a relaxed or a hyperactive state.
The autonomic nervous system of the brain has two systems responsible for body regulation & those are the sympathetic & parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is what gets us into action where we become more alert. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for getting people into a more calm state.
The sympathetic system is what you don't want activated as it turns the body into a more heightened state. Do not start breathing heavy, breath quickly, or hyperventilate as that can exacerbate feelings of stress.
In regards to managing stress, the parasympathetic system is what gets a person to be more relaxed. Ways to engage this system is with focused breathing.
One way to accomplish this is to inhale through the nose for 3-10 seconds (duration can be based on preference) & exhaling through the mouth in a relatively similar time. This should be repeated 3-5 times to calm the systems. Another technique as popularized by Andrew Huberman of Stanford University is to do a double inhale through the nose followed by an exhale through the mouth. This would have a quicker effect on achieving a more calm state.
Practice these techniques regularly to when it becomes a daily habitual thing in the morning, in the night, or when stress starts to feel a little too much to bear. This practice helps to slow time & allow people to gather their thoughts better.
And if you encounter people who seem to be exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, kindly approach them & offer to show them these practices too.
3. Consider seeking out meditation
Meditation when done correctly can be a powerful tool to calm the mind & almost get a person to have a restart on their day. This is especially useful when it comes to dealing with stress once a consistent enough routine has been implemented.
Meditation can be done with a professional through yoga sessions, stretching with focused breathing, DVD or video streams that deliver visual & audio instructions, & even meditation apps!
In one study, 238 employees from large United Kingdom companies formed two groups, one group used would use smartphone meditation apps while the control group didn't. It was found that the experimental group after 16 weeks had reported improvements in well-being, less job strain, more likely to be social, & most notably their blood pressure had dropped when tested at the 8-week & 16-week period (Bostock et al, 2019).
A smartphone meditation app might be ideal for convenience to compensate for busy schedules, accessibility, & environmental limitations.
(Note: there is no financial incentive for the links that are included)
4. Talk to a trustworthy person
Sometimes, we just need to vent out what we are feeling in order to put them into words.
A way to reduce stress would be to talk to a person we genuinely trust speaking to & that could include a close friend, a family member, a coach, a teacher, or someone we know who is nonjudgmental & is willing to help.
Having a person to listen to us vent is so meaningful, even if they don't have all the answers, their willingness to listen & provide us a safe space to put our emotions into words can help us feel more comfortable with what we are feeling. These people can potentially provide us useful insight, ask questions that get us to challenge our own thoughts, they might know someone with a more practical solution to handle specific instances of stressful scenarios, or at the very least they were there for us at our most vulnerable.
An appropriate way to ask someone if they would be willing to listen would go something along the lines of "Hey, life has been a little rough lately, are you free to talk? I value what you have to say because I trust you & appreciate having you in my life." This might not be guaranteed as this doesn't account for how much time someone has available, but at least this can be seen as approachable & authentic.
Be mindful to the person that is listening as although they obviously care about what you think, it's important not to take advantage of their time & to overbear them with gritty details. This can impact the relationship depending on the type of relationship (work, sports-related, teaching) & create conflicts of interest.
But if there is something bothering you, don't be afraid to speak on it versus keeping it bottled up, people are more willing to help than you think.
5. Talk to a licensed professional
This is the kind of therapeutic relationship that allows a person to collaborate with the counselor in an effort to confront the stress together until it becomes more manageable. A licensed counselor is the kind of person to bring the stress from the outside world to the table as their ability to breakdown issues on a first principles basis widens the sphere of possible interventions the client & the counselor can work on together.
Stress if severe enough is often comorbid with mental illnesses such as depression & anxiety. Many forms of psychotherapy are used to treat that interconnected conditions & the overlap between disorders receive the same quality of therapy despite differences in anxiety & depression levels (Olthuis et al, 2018). Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often beholden as a prominent form of therapy due to its efficacy & effectiveness even when done online (Olthuis et al, 2018).
Seeing a counselor can be done through an in-person setting like a small office space or online via Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, & other HIPAA friendly video-conferencing tools. Sessions are always confidential & video chats are private & encrypted ensuring maximum privacy, safety, & security.
Telehealth over the last few years has emerged as the catalyst for more affordable & accessible mental health care to be delivered to a generation of people more willing to accept help from online. Younger people & ethnic groups have been known to be least likely to approach seeing a counselor due to the stigma of not being emotionally competent to deal with their own issues. However, as advancements in technology & software emerge, younger people & ethnic groups are more encouraged to seek out internet-based solutions & other online interventions like meditation apps virtual access to a live counselor (Rickwood et al 2007).
6. Keep an eye on other health habits
It's not uncommon for stress to be a result of a combination of health-related factors including:
-Diet & nutrition
-Quality of social environment
-Lack of sun exposure
-Consumption of drugs & alcohol not in moderation
These should all be in consideration & consistently reexamined in order to be at a healthy level of stress as an disruptions to these patterns of living can have an adverse effect on one's exposure to the stress they receive.
As these factors are monitored, it allows for people to make adjustments on their lifestyles in an effort to achieve a higher quality of life with the limited resources at one's disposal.
Many of the items listed above are actionable, low-cost, & can be incorporated right away in supplement to clinical treatment methods to severe cases of stress. Consult a doctor & seek out their opinion on these 6 ways to manage stress & live a little healthier.
Here's a video we made to recap all the information presented!
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Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for educational purposes only, it is important for readers to be mindful of all information presented & have their own due diligence.