Everyone experiences stress at some point in their life, whether it's related to work, family life or health. While occasional feelings of stress are normal and generally harmless, long-term stress can have a negative effect on your overall wellness.
However, stress doesn't have to take over your life. Read on for more about what stress is and when it can be good for you as well as five easy ways to reduce stress.
What is stress?
Stress is your body's normal response to something that is perceived as a threat. It is a hormonal reaction that can cause an increase in heart rate and racing thoughts. Stress can sometimes be confused with anxiety, which is a residual effect of stress that involves a heightened sense of nervousness or feeling like something bad is going to happen.
“We all have stress in our lives, and a little bit of stress is actually a GOOD thing…it helps keep us going, moving, and respond in a timely manner,” said Carol MacKusick, Mission Health Nurse Practitioner. “Your Mission Health primary care provider can help you understand which stressors are good or bad, and when stress may becoming ‘too much’. Reaching out to someone who knows your health history is a great way to discuss new events and how they are impacting you today,” said MacKusick. I like to tell patients that I am the navigator of the ship, and they are the captain. As their PCP, I can help offer different directions or paths that they may want to take, and from there, they can decide which options work best for them. The same is true with stressors; when I know you are feeling stress, I can help you navigate that storm effectively and efficiently, and maybe even with a smile on your face.”
What are the long-term effects of stress?
“Too much stress can cause other problems, such as insomnia / lack of sleep, headaches, weight changes, depression and anxiety, brain ‘fog’ or reduced memory. Serious, long term stress has also been linked to many chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. The key, really, is controlling the stressors in your life so the stress does not control you,” said MacKusick.
Chronic stress can also increase the risk of serious health problems like heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke.
5 tips to help reduce stress
Although stress is inevitable, you can
take steps to improve your overall stress level. Here are some easy ways to reduce stress.
Exercise not only increases your overall health, but it can also help reduce stress as well. Working out helps lower the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the body.
“For me, there are a few things are truly key in managing my stress. Getting outside and incorporating a little exercise (a walk, hike, or perhaps a bike ride) help to align things in my life. It is hard to be overwhelmed by stress when nature is all around you,” said MacKusick.
Regular aerobic exercise reduces your cortisol and increases your positive hormones, which are endorphins or oxytocin. That's one physical thing you can do to reverse the physical impact of stress on your body. Studies have also shown that exercise can improve cognitive function, which can help with memory and concentration.
Meditation can be helpful for quieting your mind and letting go of the things that are stressing you out. And you don't need any fancy or expensive equipment to meditate. There are resources like apps, podcasts and guided meditations that can help if you have trouble meditating on your own. If you're struggling with meditation, try to start with five minutes a day (or however often you can manage) and work your way up as you get more comfortable with it.
3. Lifestyle changes
Lifestyle changes can have a big impact on your stress levels. If there are certain areas of your life that are more stressful than others, such as your job, it can be beneficial to consider changing your situation. These don't have to be big changes, though. Even small changes like journaling every morning or finding ways to incorporate more humor and fun into your everyday life can be helpful for dealing with stress.
Asking for help can be hard, but if you get to a point where you feel like you can't manage your stress by yourself, therapy can make a big difference.
Talk therapy is a way to unstick things that are stuck in your mind that are unhealthy. Therapy should not be underestimated as a tool to reduce the ongoing effects of stress. A therapist can help you find healthy ways to manage your stress and provide an objective listening ear if you find it difficult to talk to people around you.
Our diets have just as much of an impact on our mental health as they do on our physical health, and maintaining a healthy diet can make a significant difference in how we feel. People whose diet is heavy in processed foods and added sugar are more likely to experience higher stress levels. Not eating enough foods that are nutrient-dense can also put you at risk for deficiencies in nutrients that regulate mood and stress, such as B vitamins and magnesium.
“I am a big believer in really watching what I eat when I know things are stressful. It is so easy to ‘stress’ eat, and before you know it, your weight is up a few pounds…which adds more stress,” said MacKusick. Also, it is fine to enjoy a glass of wine occasionally or a beer or cocktail when you are out. But if you are using alcohol to help deal with your stress, please talk to your primary care provider about this. Too much alcohol can have so many negative impacts on the body, and your provider can help you in deciding if cutting back or quitting alcohol may be a good option for you, or if it is actually adding to your stress burden.”
Find coping mechanisms that work for you
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health and the physical and mental effects that stress can have on us. What we've learned about ourselves in the past year is that anxiety and stress are normal, and how you manage them has a big impact on yourself and your personal happiness, as well as your family. It's important to know what your limits are, what your coping mechanisms are and what works for you.
Not everyone reacts to stress in the same way, and what works for someone else may not work for you. But it's important to be aware of when you are stressed and try to take steps to reduce it however you can to avoid long-term negative effects. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly to see how you feel, and take note of where you need to make adjustments. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Call 828-213-3222 or visit the link below to make an appointment with your Mission Health primary care provider.