Occasional stress is considered normal. It forces us to stay on our toes, find solutions to challenges and rise up to meet our goals. Too much stress, however, can affect your physical, mental and emotional health. When left unchecked, it can even lead to chronic health issues.
There are many factors that may lead to high stress levels such as anxiety about an upcoming work presentation or feeling pressured about a recent life change. It might also result from the grief of losing a family member or close friend. In some cases it’s situational – for example, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic increased stress levels for many people.
Occasional stress isn’t dangerous, but it negatively impacts your health when you’re constantly stressed without getting a break. It can lead to feeling overworked and burnt out. This may eventually lead to coping behaviors, such as overeating, substance abuse and social withdrawal. These behavioral reactions contribute to some of the longer-term health effects of chronic stress, such as obesity, insomnia, depression and anxiety. Additional health effects of chronic stress include heart disease, high blood pressure, headaches, diabetes, skin conditions and asthma.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help get stress under control:
1.) Get regular physical activity – Exercise in almost any form can serve as a stress reliever. That’s because it increases your body’s endorphins, which help you feel good in the moment and over time help you feel more relaxed, confident and less anxious. It also helps improve your physical health by boosting your cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems.
The American Heart Association recommends adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. This breaks down to five, 30-minute workouts. The options are endless – the most important thing is that you get moving and get your heart rate up. Remember – although you don’t need to feel good to get moving, you need to move to feel good.
2.)Practice relaxation techniques – Although taking a deep breath eases some tension in the moment, there are many more relaxation techniques that can help lower stress. What’s more, relaxation techniques aren’t only good for relieving stress – they can also help lower your blood pressure, improve digestion and sleep issues and help you feel more confident when facing problems.
Relaxation techniques include practicing yoga, meditation, massage, deep breathing exercises, tai chi and aromatherapy. Everyone is different so what works for someone else may not work for you. Try a few techniques to find the one that’s right for you.
3.) Connect with family and friends – Don’t underestimate the power of a strong support network. Connecting with your family and friends is one of the best ways to get through tough times. Having a strong support network can help relieve stress, improve your ability to cope with difficult situations and improve self-esteem.
If your support system is lacking, you can take steps to strengthen it. Look outside your usual contacts and try volunteering. Giving back will bring you into contact with new people and, as an added bonus, you’ll feel good about giving back and doing something to improve the lives of others.
One final tip: when feeling stressed, the one thing you shouldn’t do is turn to your screens – television, video games or social media. While these activities may seem relaxing, they may ultimately increase your stress levels and make you feel worse.
Talk to a personal doctor if you would like to learn additional stress management tips. To find a personal doctor near you, talk to your health insurance provider.