The television ads from the last half of the last century got it wrong – the idea was that our lives in the future (our present) would be far more leisurely. After all, with machines to help us wash our dishes, clean our clothes, and vacuum our floors, and with computers and other machines to take over menial tasks for us, surely, we’d have more time on our hands and find ourselves with loads of room for the joys of life, right?
Unfortunately, having more machines with greater capabilities hasn’t reduced our workloads or made life less busy. There’s always a lot going on in our lives, and with that comes a certain level of stress.
Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or struggling to cope with mental or emotional pressure. When a person experiences challenges or changes (stressors) in their life, their body goes through physical, emotional, and mental strain. That’s your body’s way of telling you that there’s something that requires your attention or urgent remedial action.
The stress response to change or challenges can help your body adjust well to new situations. As such, stress can have a positive effect by keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. Eustress, which is associated with surges of adrenaline, such as when you are skydiving, bungee jumping, or racing to meet a deadline, can be fun and exciting.
If you have an important exam or work presentation coming up, a stress response could help you work harder and stay awake for longer. However, stress can become a problem when those stressors continue unabated, without relief or periods of rest.
When you’re feeling stressed and it begins affecting your physical, emotional, and mental health, you need to find ways to reduce that stress. Sometimes, the best way to manage stress involves changing the situation you are in, while in other cases, the best strategy involves changing how you respond to the situation.
Knowing when you’re feeling stressed
While stress is something that everyone feels subjectively, your healthcare provider can use a few tests to determine if you’re feeling stress and how serious it is. They can also look out for some of the symptoms of stress such as high blood pressure and muscle tension.
Sometimes the source of a person’s stress may be obvious – if you have financial difficulties or a huge work deadline, for example, it’s easier to pinpoint where your stress may be coming from and address it directly. However, even small daily stresses from school, work, family, and friends can have an impact on your wellbeing.
Some signs of stress include:
Physical signs such as headaches, high blood pressure, changes in weight, frequent colds or infections, muscle tension, changes in the menstrual cycle, and trouble having sex
Psychological signs such as having difficulty concentrating, feeling worried and anxious, and struggling with remembering things
Behavioral signs such as relying on drugs and/or alcohol to cope with stress, not taking care of yourself, or not having time for the things that brought you joy
Emotional signs such as feeling sad, angry, irritable, or moody
Keeping an eye out for these signs will help you deal with stress before it sets in and has a long-term impact on your health.
5 ways to reduce stress
Stress is a reality for us, but there are ways to reduce stress that can stop it from overwhelming us and becoming problematic for our health. Below are five ways to reduce stress that you can use to begin handling it more productively.
1. Plan better and work consistently.
Sometimes our work habits only serve to sabotage us by putting us in a tight spot. Poor planning, an inconsistent work ethic, and procrastination can combine to make us inefficient in our tasks. The result is that we may end up behind, deadlines can spring up “out of nowhere,” and that is a recipe for a lot of stress.
Instead of setting ourselves up for failure and/or stress, developing good work habits can help us to avoid getting into those stressful situations. Sometimes, building in good work habits such as taking a moment at the close of each day to think about what you’ve accomplished – not what you didn’t get done – can help you feel good.
Additionally, narrowing your view by setting goals for your day, week and month will help you feel more in control of the moment and your long-term goals. You will not feel so overwhelmed, and that can help you reduce stress.
2. Learn to say “no.”
One of the reasons why people get stressed is that they take on more than they should. A person can take on more work than they have time, energy, or skill to perform, perhaps to earn a promotion or to impress an employer or colleague. When you have tasks to perform that exceed your capacities, that’s one sure way to experience stress, and if that situation isn’t a temporary thing, that can cause chronic stress.
One way to avoid this is to learn to say “no” to people and opportunities. That can be hard because it can mean a reduction in income, prestige, or reputation. However, stress can affect your health in serious and permanent ways, and that is also something worth considering.
3. Avoid bad habits and unhealthy ways of handling stress.
We all have ways of dealing with things, but not all ways of addressing stress are healthy or helpful. The apostle Paul writes “I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Allowing ourselves to become mastered by anything while trying to overcome stress may just create other problems for us.
People can turn to habits such as overeating; drinking alcohol too much or too often; gambling; compulsive shopping; browsing the internet; sexual encounters; smoking; or using drugs as ways of dealing with stress. However, these only mean more health and relationship problems now and further down the road as well.
4. Keep moving.
Movement is good for you – to help you reduce the cortisol that your body generates as a response to stress, and to introduce “feel-good” neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, getting some exercise is vital.
Even a short walk can do you a world of good. Whether you take up a new form of exercise such as running, cycling, swimming, dancing, or tai chi, getting some exercise is good for your overall health and is a great strategy for reducing stress.
5. Take breaks.
Getting stressed is a normal human reaction to changes and challenges, but as we saw earlier, it becomes a problem if there’s no relief. One effective strategy for reducing stress is by creating room in your life to relax and take a break. That could be during the day, week, or year – you need space to decompress and step away from the various stressors you encounter in daily life.
Taking breaks also includes sleeping well. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “When we do not sleep long or well enough, our bodies do not get the full benefits of sleep, such as muscle repair and memory consolidation. Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgment, and mood.
In addition to feelings of listlessness, chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to health problems, from obesity and high blood pressure to safety risks while driving. Research has shown that most Americans would be happier, healthier, and safer if they were to sleep an extra 60 to 90 minutes per night.”
Taking breaks may also include learning mindfulness and practicing gratitude to help you focus on all the things that are going well, and not dwell on what is not.
Even though stress is an inevitable reality, isn’t doesn’t have to be overwhelming or rule your life. You can find help by turning to psychotherapy or a life coach who can help you with developing coping skills and stress relief strategies that promote your overall well-being. Taking small steps like these to preserve your health can go a long way.
“Pandemic Stress”, Courtesy of Engin Akyurt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Calm Lake”, Courtesy of Luigi Manga, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Free”, Courtesy of Zac Durant, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Your Anxiety Is Lying to You”, Courtesy of Jayy Torres, Unsplash.com, CC0 License