Mental Health: Managing Stress

Living in today’s world is demanding. Every day, we’re expected to manage our careers or school work, our families, our homes, our finances, our health, and our social lives. It’s no wonder that stress is a prevalent and serious problem that can affect our physical health as well as our mental health. A mild or even moderate level of stress is normal and can even be beneficial, since stress is the way our bodies are designed to react to danger. This means that some stress can help you to react quickly when you need to, such as in a sports competition, or it can help you work a little harder when you have a deadline to meet. When stress is prolonged or severe, though, it can lead to physical and emotional issues that may require treatment by a medical doctor and professional counseling.

A cause of stress is called a stressor, and there are many kinds of stressors. It may come as a surprise that not all stressors have a negative connotation. In reality, a stressor is anything that puts more pressure on a person than they are used to, which means that something like planning a vacation or a wedding can be a stressor. Other stressors might be financial issues, school, work, relationship problems, being too busy, or family troubles.

Symptoms and Side Effects of Stress

There are many common symptoms of stress, but not everyone experiences stress in the same way. Individuals may have all of the symptoms or just one or two. Physical symptoms of stress include headaches, increased heart rate or respiration, upset stomach, neck or back pain, and sweating. Emotional symptoms of stress include depression, irritability, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling lonely. Stress can change the way people act, too. When stressed, a person might change their eating habits by eating too much or too little, sleep more or less than usual, procrastinate, avoid contact with other people, develop nervous habits, or abuse drugs or alcohol. When stress is chronic, it can lead to physical and mental health conditions, such as pain, heart disease, skin problems, autoimmune diseases, sleep disorders, memory problems, weight issues, digestive conditions, and reproductive issues. Because stress can result in such serious problems, it is important to seek help. Visit your doctor or make an appointment with a licensed therapist for counseling.

Ways to Manage Stress

Learning to manage stress can help prevent the more serious issues brought on by chronic stress. Fortunately, there are a lot of strategies that can make coping with stress easier. Since people are individuals, what works for one person may not work for another, so try different techniques until you find what works best for you. Focus on activities that make you feel relaxed and happy.

Physical activity can be a great way to reduce stress, and you get the added benefit of some healthy exercise. Find some friends to play basketball, tennis, or another sport you enjoy with you. Take a walk with a good friend or with your dog. Join a fitness class at a gym; there are lots of fun options, like spinning or aerobics, and some calming ones, like yoga.

If physical activity does not appeal to you or does not work, there are many other things you can try. Writing about your feelings in a journal can help you to get them out in a positive way. Writing might also help you to track the things that cause you stress and help you to prepare for or avoid them. Spending time with pets can also be a great way to relieve stress. In fact, studies have shown that pets have a calming effect on people and can help lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and decrease depression. If you don’t have a pet but enjoy animals, you could volunteer at an animal shelter or pet rescue.

Being creative may also help to reduce stress levels. Art therapy and music therapy are both great ways to reduce stress and improve your mental health. If you don’t currently have a creative hobby, consider taking a class to learn a new skill, like painting, drawing, playing the piano, or sewing. If the idea of learning a skill stresses you out, you might find that coloring is a relaxing way to be creative. There’s little cost involved, since there are free coloring pages available online and crayons and colored pencils are relatively inexpensive and last a long time. If music is more to your liking, there are often free or inexpensive concerts available on the local level, or you can simply use a free music app online.