A Definition of Stress and Stress Management
Stress is a reaction your body experiences as a result of a demanding circumstance or event that requires immediate action and attention. Specifically, this reaction causes your nervous system to produce hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and results in quickened breathing, a faster heartbeat, tightening muscles and even a sudden burst of energy.
Stress management is a process for controlling an individual’s level of stress. Stress management may include practicing daily meditation, identifying relaxing activities (which may be different for every individual), or a combination of multiple techniques. Stress management is important because chronic stress can wreak havoc on your body’s immune system and contribute to health problems such as tension headaches, migraine headaches, insomnia, weight gain, depression, anxiety, digestive problems, and even heart disease. Both acute and chronic stress impact memory and concentration, making effective stress management crucial for optimal day-to-day functioning.
Benefits of Stress
Stress often has a negative connotation, but it is actually useful and necessary. Stress can make you more aware of your surroundings, increase your focus, give you needed energy to complete a pending task, and even supply your body with the extraordinary ability to handle an emergency. Your body’s intended purpose for stress is therefore, a naturally good and beneficial one.
Stress is a physical response by your body designed to help you. Stress exists to provide your body with the tools needed to effectively react to unplanned, challenging circumstances. Stress should be reserved for these special circumstances and consequently, occur infrequently. Unfortunately, people can experience stress quite frequently in their lives; thus, spurring on many problems associated with overall health.
Negative Effects of Stress
Stress becomes a problem when it operates out of its natural, intended purpose; that is, when it occurs frequently and over a long period of time. The body will still produce hormones and experience the same effects of stress – rapid heartbeat, tightening muscles, fast breathing — no matter how often the stress occurs.
Therefore, if people experience stress nearly every day; their hearts, muscles, digestive and immune systems will endure negative consequences. People who experience chronic stress can suffer from high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heartburn, headaches, and viral illnesses. Stress can have very serious health consequences and therefore, needs to be managed effectively.
How to Manage Stress Effectively
Stress management is having the ability to recognize situations that may cause stress, in order to use strategies to prevent the stress from occurring. Stress management also means setting up your life in a way that the opportunity for stress is unlikely to occur. The best approach to stress management is different from person to person, depending on the stressors that impact the individual and how each individual responds to various coping techniques. Thankfully, there are many known strategies that are widely used and very effective when it comes to managing stress.
Some effective stress management tips and techniques include:
Time management: Time constraints can trigger stress in people’s lives. Schedules often become overloaded, causing people to feel overwhelmed. In order to alleviate this kind of stress, making a list of priorities can help your schedule become more manageable and possible to complete.
Self-awareness: Knowing your personal limits is crucial because being pushed outside of your personal limitations, can cause unneeded stress. What some people consider a busy schedule, others do not. Some people are equipped to handle multiple tasks while others need a simpler schedule. Therefore, you need to be aware of your boundaries, according to your personality and value system. Eliminate things in your life that do not line up with what you personally can handle so that you experience stress less often.
Healthy diet: Maintaining good nutrition can help both your mind and body function well and give you the ability to cope with every day demands better. When your body receives its necessary nutrients and proper fuel, stress is less likely to accompany everyday tasks.
Exercise: Committing to a consistent exercise routine allows your body to release tension and even relax its muscles, benefiting your physical well-being. Taking steps to support good health gives you the ability to focus on life’s responsibilities without added pressure or stress.
Good support system: Having the ability to talk through challenging situations with trusted friends, can help you avoid stress. A supportive network of friends can provide listening ears and encouraging words, allowing you the ability to work through otherwise difficult situations with more stability and less stress.
Healthy sleep habits: According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, more than 40% of adults in the U.S. report trouble sleeping due to stress (e.g., lying awake at night worrying about stressful circumstances). Adequate sleep is important for allowing your body time to repair and rejuvenate, which helps with mental alertness, memory, and concentration, and also boosts immune strength. Going to bed at the same time each night, eliminating distractions such as television and mobile devices, and aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep each night are best practices for healthy sleep.
Stress Management for Immune Health
Stress is closely tied to immune functioning; people who experience chronic, high levels of stress and do not manage their stress effectively often are sick more frequently and may suffer other health consequences in the long term. If you suffer from chronic stress, there are some foods believed to help combat stress, and in general, a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals will help your body to function at its best and ward off stress.
When your immune system is weakened as a result of chronic stress, you’re more likely to catch colds and viruses, and illness in turn creates additional stress as it’s challenging to meet your obligations at work and home when you’re feeling under the weather. Boosting your immune system with supplements that provide immune support can help to ward off these ill effects, halting the vicious cycle in its tracks. An immune supplement with probiotics offers the added benefit of regulating your digestive processes, which are often thrown askew when your body is feeling the effects of stress.
If stress is something in your life that needs to be managed, it is important to speak to your health care provider about it. As with all health conditions, each situation is unique and needs personal attention from a professional.