Stress is an unavoidable reality of life. But stress isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a natural, physical response that can trigger our fight-or-flight response. Stress can increase our awareness in difficult or dangerous situations, allowing us to act quickly in the moment. Without it, humans wouldn’t have survived this long.
But if stress is constant over time, it can be detrimental to your health. So, stress prevention and management is important, and will help you juggle the many things going on in your life. The goal of preventing and managing stress isn’t to completely get rid of stress, but to eliminate unnecessary stress and help you cope with unavoidable stress.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s response to any demand, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Many things can trigger stress and can be positive or negative. In a dangerous situation, stress will trigger your fight-or-flight response and cause the following symptoms:
- increased heart rate
- faster breathing
- tensed muscles
This stress allows you to make split-second decisions and is what helped cavemen either face a threat or flee.
Your body is only meant to handle stress in small bursts. Chronic stress can lead to serious problems, lowering your immune system and interfering with the proper functioning of your body’s systems. A lowered immune system means you are more prone to colds and infections. Over time, constant strain can also lead to:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
Identify your stressors
Everyone responds to stress differently and identifying what stresses you out can be easier said than done. In most cases, it’s fairly obvious: a bad relationship, a poor work environment, or health concerns, for example. In other cases, finding the root of your stress and anxiety may be more challenging.
Learn to know how you react to stress and what specifically stresses you out. Keep a daily journal and record when something causes you undue stress or anxiety. Then try to answer these questions when stress arises:
- Is it a particular person or place that causes the stress?
- When do I feel the most “on edge” during the day?
- Do I make bad decisions as a result of feeling stressed or overwhelmed?
When you start to see patterns, you’ll be able to recognize what triggers stress for you, and you’ll be better equipped to handle it.
Change stressors when you can
Some stress is unavoidable and the best you can do is to manage it. Some things are within your control. For example, if you know that grocery shopping on Sunday evening stresses you out because the lines are always long and everyone’s picked through the best produce before you get there, change your schedule and shop on another night.
Changing simple things in your life can add up and greatly reduce your overall stress.
Sometimes you may bite off more than you can chew and before you know it, you’re overwhelmed. It can be hard to juggle the many activities and people in your life, whether it’s work, school, family, friends, or whatever you have going on. Learning how to say “no” is important so you don’t stretch yourself too thin.
It might be hard to turn someone down or not participate in a certain event, but saving your energy and having time for yourself is important. You’ll be more rested and less irritable. And you’ll be able to enjoy other people and activities more.
Be realistic and know your limits and be firm with them. You’ll be healthier and happier for it.
Try not to get overwhelmed
You have a report due by the end of the day, two memos that need to be written, and an email inbox that’s overflowing. But where do you start? First, make a list. This helps you see what’s on your plate so you can prioritize what needs attention now and what can wait. Number the items in order of importance and complete them one at a time.
Involve other people
Talk to your spouse, children, parents, friends, and coworkers. Let them know you’re working to reduce the amount of stress you deal with, and ask them for help when you need it. They can also help you identify stressful situations before they’ve become too much for you. And they can help you organize your schedule or let you vent frustrations.
Be open to their advice and help. It’s possible they’ve faced similar situations and have information than can be of benefit to you. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. You can also see a therapist or psychologist to talk things out. Talking through a problem or conflict can help you better understand it and how to avoid it in the future.
It’s easy to skip exercise when you’re stressed, but exercise is good for your physical health. It helps combat the negative effects of stress on your body and is good for your mental health.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise and other physical activities can help relieve stress by releasing endorphins, which are natural painkillers, into your brain.
Regular exercise improves your mood and naturally lowers symptoms of stress and anxiety. Exercise can also give you a much-needed boost of confidence to help you deal with stress in the future. You’ll also probably sleep better. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise each day.
There are other practices that can also help relieve stress and put your mind and body at ease:
- tai chi
- deep breathing exercises
Be an optimist
When you’re worried or feel your stress level rising, try to surround yourself with positive thoughts and experiences. Listen to music, watch a funny video, or call a friend who makes you laugh.
Meet negativity with a positive reaction. A positive attitude will keep you from slipping back into feeling overwhelmed.
Stress affects us all, no matter what you have going on in your life. But not all stress is bad. It’s important to your natural fight-or-flight mechanism that allows you to act quickly in times of duress.
Managing stress is important in juggling the many day-to-day activities of life without letting it have a negative impact on your health. There are many things you can do to prevent stress and manage unavoidable stress.