The ability to handle stress is one of the essential elements to fostering good mental health.
Mental health professionals define a long-term stress response as a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding situations.
When you have stress in your life – a crisis of some kind induces the effects of stress, which reduces your capacity to cope.
The onset of chronic stress differs from person to person but may be brought on by:
- The sudden loss of a loved one
- Job loss
- Being diagnosed with a disease or illness
- Moving home
- Tough work deadlines
Fostering resilience and learning effective stress management techniques helps us categorize the external stressors in our lives, and crucially, deal with them on both an emotional and psychological level.
What is stress management?
Stress management is defined by Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2008 as:
”A set of techniques and programs intended to help people deal more effectively with stress in their lives by analyzing the specific stressors and taking positive actions to minimize their effects.”
It is unrealistic to expect you or anyone else not to experience a little bit of angst from time to time.
Stress is a massive part of our everyday lives – from running late to the office through to missing out on an important work deadline, many people experience stress every day and can function perfectly well.
Interestingly, many people use stress as a precursor to success. Positive stress, such as when a person feels pressure to complete a project or task that they enjoy, is an excellent motivator for long-term success.
Another good example is when we get involved in charitable causes such as running a marathon or other physical challenge.
All the rigorous training required to complete a marathon may be physically and emotionally draining at times – however since the results of our actions are positive, this in itself makes us feel good.
When a person encounters a stressful situation or multiple stressful situations – all this tension creates a myriad of emotional and physical problems.
The effects of stress should not get overlooked either.
It’s a fact that up to forty-three per cent of all adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress, and between seventy-five and ninety per cent of doctor visits are for stress-induced complaints and ailments.
Health impact of long-term stress
The physical impact that high-stress levels have on the body is in direct correlation to diseases such as:
What are the symptoms associated with chronic stress?
Every one of us has a unique reaction to stress, and the symptoms of chronic stress vary from person to person.
Although each individual has a unique stress level of tolerance – some of the common symptoms associated with stress are:
- Extreme irritability
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of sexual desire
- Stomach problems, such as indigestion, constipation and nausea
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Depression and anxiety
- Thoughts that are rapid and disorganized
- Frequently becoming ill with illnesses or infections
What are the causes of emotional stress?
There is a wide range of triggers that cause emotional stress in someone.
Some of the triggers behind emotional stress include:
- Falling out with a close friend or going through a relationship breakup
- Issues at work or with the people in your working environment
- Family problems
- Substance abuse (such as alcohol)
- Certain stress hormones in the body being over-activated
- Overwhelming family responsibilities such as taking care of a sick parent or relative
Other life stressors
Many people find that other life stressors such as being stuck in traffic, grocery shopping or unmet work deadlines cause them to feel stressed.
Again, people are all different, and our reactions to a perceived stressful situation are just as unique – and like most mental health conditions – our approach to stress management is not a one size fits all approach.
What are six effective ways to cope with stress?
Ruminating and going over the same problem in our minds makes it a lot more challenging for us to accept the things we cannot change – such as ending a marriage or long-term friendship.
When experiencing a lot of stress – people tend to focus on the things they cannot change – rather than the things they can change.
The key to effective stress management is to focus on the things we can control.
There are plenty of ways that people can do this, all of which involve incorporating the right stress management techniques and strategies – these involve:
#1. Taking some time out
As mentioned earlier, rumination happens a lot for people who are feeling stressed out or worried.
A whole range of unanswered questions about a particular life event or situation (some helpful, some not so beneficial) causes stress in a person as the negative energy that this builds is detrimental alone.
Taking time out from whatever it is that is causing you to feel stressed is one right way of putting some distance between you and the problem.
All this allows you to come back from a different vantage point and relinquish control over some of the unhelpful thoughts and feelings related to the event.
Journaling is another helpful way to feel better. It allows us to get everything down on paper, which will enable us to explore our emotional worlds and seek resolution from the problem at hand.
You can also open up to your friends about how you’ve been feeling – the trick is to fully immerse yourself, whilst distracting yourself at the same time.
#2. Use distraction techniques
Like the first point, but with a specific intent – using distraction techniques is the right way of diverting our attention away from a particular problem.
Get involved in fun activities.
Temporary distractions are not the same as avoidance – instead, they are healthy ways to distract the mind in the short-term allowing us to focus on someone else or something else for a while – these activities may involve:
- Fun activities with friends
- Listening to music
- Watching a feel-good movie
- Going for a walk or enjoying a long soak in the bath
While we mustn’t repress our feelings, there are plenty of benefits in healthily exploring our emotions in other ways.
There are also advantages to the activities mentioned above to lessen our pain and re-establish the connection – stress management is a balancing act between these two things.
#3. Take up meditation
The long-term benefits that come with practising meditation are endless. The time you spend on healthy activities such as meditation- is time well spent!
Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation are renowned for reducing stress on the mind and body.
When people meditate – this gives them the space to be more present with their thoughts and emotions instead of repeatedly going over specific problems or concerns in their mind.
Meditation is an excellent way to manage stress, but it is also useful for regaining control over one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions, which helps them feel a lot better and a lot less anxious.
#4. Cultivate mindfulness
A lot of the time, long-term or chronic stress is felt in the physical body too.
Built-up negative energy causes us to feel heavy.
Many people experience this heaviness in the chest, through headaches, and unpleasant feelings in the stomach, such as nausea or pain.
Mindfulness allows people to go deeper by uncovering any emotional reactions, all of which get expressed through physical discomfort.
People may begin to notice where these unpleasant sensations get held in the body and eventually work towards releasing them.
#5. Maintain a routine
Some of the best strategies used in stress management get centred around some form of consistency.
The way you manage your time, for example, contributes to how you deal with chronic stress and how you keep things in perspective and order.
If your life is chaotic, then it’s likely that your fight or flight response is on constant high alert – meaning that you are at an increased risk of experiencing severe stress, substance abuse and mental health issues.
To reduce stress – people should look at their daily routines and assess whether some of the things they do are helpful or conducive to stress relief.
Maintaining a consistent schedule may involve:
- Going to bed at a reasonable time (preferably the same time every night)
- Eating a balanced and healthy diet
- Regular exercise and physical activity
- Looking at ways to improve your well being such as speaking to a close friend, family member or therapist
- Practising better time management to alleviate stress
#6. Speak to a therapist
There are plenty of therapeutic methods available to help people manage their stress.
The trick is to make sure that you opt for the right treatment solution for you.
Managing stress, especially in this day and age, is challenging, but there are plenty of approaches and methods to help you take control.
There is a wide range of treatment options available, including:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – this type of therapy helps people to explore any limiting beliefs, thoughts and emotions, all of which have led to destructive behaviours such as alcohol abuse, gambling addiction and any other avoidance behaviours
- One to one counselling sessions – talking through your problems with a mental health professional helps with understanding the root cause and how to adopt healthier coping mechanisms for the future
- Ten/twelve-step programs – stress impacts the mind and body so severely that people often turn to self-medication to feel better. Rehab and addiction programs are centred around treating the trauma surrounding substance abuse whilst helping a person to get sober
- Holistic wellness programs – this type of therapy focuses on the mind and body and the emotional and spiritual aspects of a person. Holistic wellness programs get integrated into a full treatment plan for those suffering from stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems.
If you feel as though you are experiencing higher stress levels than normal, or you would like to explore ways to effectively manage your stress – than perhaps it’s time to reach out to a professional who can help.
Contact a team member at Tikvah Lake Recovery today, and find out how we can help you manage your stress and reach your full potential.