Understanding What Stress Is and the Importance of Stress Relief Activities
Have you felt stressed out lately? Whether your stress is linked to recent world events or your stress is more of a constant affliction, there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t at one point or other felt stress.
But other than a general feeling of uneasiness, tension and anxiety, what is stress exactly in a technical sense?
Why Do We Get Stressed?
Stress describes the body’s natural reaction to a change in our lives or environment — even positive changes. The implications can be felt physically, emotionally and mentally.
Stress is an extremely normal and human reaction to life’s ups and downs. In fact, it’s a totally necessary and helpful mechanism, since it keeps us alert and able to react to real threats of danger (you’ve probably heard of this referred to as the fight or flight response).
But in our modern lives, we aren’t typically in true danger and don’t need constant adrenaline and cortisol pulsing through our veins. If our stress levels continue to stay high, it can have serious impacts on our health over time — both our physical and emotional health.
Luckily, there are many ways to mitigate stress levels and prevent it from wreaking havoc on your body and emotions.
How Stress Affects the Body
Right up there with nutrition choices, exercise, and smoking or drinking in excess, stress is also linked to many of the leading causes of death. These include cancer, heart disease, lung disease and suicide.
Physical and Emotional Symptoms
This is because over time, if stress levels remain constant, the body begins to break down. This can result in many physical symptoms including headaches, sleeplessness, mood swings, high blood pressure, an upset stomach, changes in sex drive, fatigue, and muscle tension or pain. It may also make it harder to lose weight or focus on your work. Over time, other emotional effects can occur, such as lack of drive, irritability, anger, anxiety and depression.
The Importance of Coping Mechanisms
Clearly, the importance of stress reduction can hardly be overemphasized. Stress at times is normal, but if it becomes a constant presence in your life, it’s essential to learn healthy coping mechanisms and tools to manage stress levels, including stress relief activities.
Though life will always continue to throw us curveballs, equipped with the knowledge of how to recognize stress and manage it, we can stay in the driver’s seat. We can all take steps to learn healthier outlets and ways to copy with emotions that won’t leave us permanently stressed out.
Connection Between Stress and Disease
If you’ve heard that stress is a killer or that stress ages us, it’s no exaggeration. As mentioned, there are definite links between stress and many chronic, serious diseases.
Scientists are still studying the connections and uncovering more and more data proving that stress can not only make existing conditions worse but actually cause disease.
Diseases officially linked to stress include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, ulcers and stomach issues, depression, and even things like the common cold, weight gain and slower rates of healing.
Many studies have found that when we’re stressed, whether it’s from work, relationship issues, financial worries, or any of the other common stressors associated with our busy, modern lives, our bodies simply have a harder time healing and functioning in the way they’re designed.
Why is this? As the body reacts to stressful situations, it responds by releasing adrenaline and also cortisol — widely known as the stress hormone. The output of cortisol is no doubt useful in small doses, as it alerts us of a danger and helps us to react. The problem occurs when cortisol runs through the body like a faucet that’s never turned off, as it does for many of us. Over time, this constant drip of cortisol can cause rampant inflammation which damages cells and blood vessels, leading to or worsening many diseases.
Ways to Reduce Your Stress Effectively
Just like there are many causes of stress, there are also many options when it comes to treating it. A variety of approaches may be needed, and everyone finds different approaches to be helpful.
If you feel like you’ve tried to manage stress without much success in the past, try a new approach or try stacking various stress relief activities, that when combined, can greatly reduce your overall stress levels.
Here are some places to start:
- Getting regular exercise
- Making sure you’re getting ample vitamin D (from sunlight or supplements)
- Meditation (guided such as with an app, or on your own)
- Deep breathing
- Journaling out your thoughts
- Talking to friends or a therapist
- Unplugging from work and enjoying hobbies
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
If your stress does not improve or you find yourself becoming depressed, it’s always best to open up and speak with a health care provider about options like therapy or treatment with an anti-anxiety medication, both of which are helpful to many.
To learn more about ways to manage stress, check out our blog post on stress management.