Let’s start with this: stress is a perfectly normal reaction for your body. The human body is wired to react to physical and emotional challenges. So, whatever it is that you’re feeling is perfectly normal. But, we do need to make sure that our stress levels are balanced for the sake of our physical and mental well-being.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s response to a challenge or demand. We all experience stress triggered by a range of events, from small daily hassles to significant life changes like a divorce or loss of a job. The stress response includes physical components, such as an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, thoughts and personal beliefs about the stressful event, and emotions, including fear and anger. Although we often think of it as unfavorable, stress can also come from positive life changes, like getting a promotion at work or having a baby.
How can we handle stress in healthy ways?
Stress serves an essential purpose — it enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties or increased physical health problems. As we’re now one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like almost everyone is coping with high levels of stress, and it’s worth noting that increased stress levels can interfere with our ability to deal with physical illness, as well.
While we can’t avoid all stress, we can find ways to create healthy habits that help us relax.
Eat healthy food and drink more water: Consuming a nutritious, balanced diet can combat stress. Try to reduce your caffeine intake – high levels of caffeine can increase some physical symptoms of anxiety, such as palpitations and high blood pressure. If you have any concerns about your diet, consult your doctor.
Exercise regularly. In addition to having physical health benefits, exercise is a powerful stress reliever. Consider non-competitive aerobic exercise, strength training with weights, or movement activities like yoga or Tai Chi, and set reasonable goals for yourself. This isn’t a competition – it’s about you taking care of yourself. Whatever it is that you do is good enough for you.
Practice relaxation techniques. Taking the time to relax every day helps manage stress and protect the body from the effects of stress. You can choose from various methods, such as deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. Many web and smartphone apps are available to guide you through these techniques.
Reduce triggers of stress. If you’re like most people, your life may be filled with too many things to do, and too little time to do them. Free up some time by practicing time-management skills like asking for help when it’s appropriate, setting priorities, pacing yourself, and reserving some time to take care of yourself.
Set realistic goals and expectations. It’s ok — and healthy — to realize you can’t be 100% successful at everything, all the time. Be mindful of the things you can control, and accept the things you can’t control.
Sell yourself to yourself. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of what you do well. Have a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Find your circle of support. Spending time with people who are currently going through similar challenges as yours can help you immensely. Find the right circle for you and surround yourself with supportive people.
Feel like you’re ready to try some relaxing methods? Here are some that we love:
Deep breathing exercises
Progressive muscle relaxation
Mental imagery relaxation
If you feel like your stress levels are harming you in any way, physically or mentally, please consult your healthcare provider.
What to do if you have trouble sleeping
Insomnia, or difficulty with sleeping, is a common symptom of stress. Please note that insomnia can also be a symptom of illness, so make sure to talk to your doctor, if needed. If you are experiencing sleep issues related to stress, here are some things you can do:
Establish a regular sleep schedule – go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Make sure your bed and surroundings are comfortable.
Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.
Use your bedroom for sleeping only -don’t work or watch TV in your bedroom.
If you feel nervous or anxious, talk to your spouse, partner, or a trusted friend or find a support group to help get your troubles off your mind.
Listen to relaxing music.
If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired -don’t stay in bed worrying about when you’re going to fall asleep.
Maintain a regular exercise routine, but don’t exercise within two to three hours before the time you go to bed.
Remember – we’re all experiencing some significant changes in our lives. It’s ok to feel stress and to feel overwhelmed. Find your Circles of Support, and always find the time to take care of yourself.