If there is one thing that is constant about life, it’s that there are always changes and challenges for us to meet. While many of these can be exciting to overcome, others may prove too much of an obstacle. Perhaps this is because we cannot adapt to the situation, or simply because they threaten our sense of well-being.

Stress is how the body and mind respond to pressure or any kind of demand on them. Many different situations, challenges, or life events can cause stress, and this includes significant life changes, traumatic events, perceived or real threats to our lives, or performance required at work or school.

Stress is often triggered when we experience something new, unforeseen, or that threatens our sense of self, or when we feel we have little control over a given situation. Because stress can affect our physical and mental health, we must pay close attention to how we deal with minor and major stressors, so we know when to make certain interventions or seek help to find effective stress management techniques.

How does stress affect our bodies and our minds?

Our body reacts to stress in various ways. When we feel threatened, for instance, our bodies release adrenalin which allows us to act in a way to prevent injury or death. This bodily reaction is known as the fight-or-flight response. During this stress response, our heart rate increases, our breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises – this is how prepares us to protect ourselves from any danger, real or perceived.

In the short term, these physiological reactions are good because they can help us manage the situation causing us stress. A certain amount of stress can help us focus on a test, job interview, or presentation, for example.

A stressor can be a short-term or one-time event, or it can occur repeatedly over a long time. Some stressors may be routine, such as the pressures of everyday life like school, work, and family responsibilities, while others may be sudden and brought about by a sudden negative change such as losing a job, getting divorced, or falling ill. People have different capacities for coping with stress effectively as well as recovering from stressful events, and so the same stressors may have different effects on different people.

When we deal with stress that recurs over a long period of time, the body and mind never receive the signal to return to normal functioning. This has profoundly negative consequences on our health. What is meant to be a lifesaving and helpful reaction in the short term can end up disrupting our cardiovascular, immune, sleep, digestive, and reproductive systems.

The continued strain on the body and mind from experiencing stress can contribute to serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Ongoing stress can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including:

  •   Obesity and other eating disorders
  •   Sexual dysfunction and lowered libido in both men and women
  •   Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
  •   Menstrual problems
  •   Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
  •   Gastrointestinal problems, such as gastritis, ulcerative colitis, irritable colon, diarrhea, or constipation

Because stress can affect our bodies and minds in such drastically negative ways, finding healthy stress management techniques can promote your wellbeing.

Effective Stress Management Techniques

We all need to manage stress in healthy ways. We can either limit the stressors in your lives, or we can find ways to increase our capacity to manage stress. Below are a few suggestions of effective stress management techniques to help us deal with life’s stressors.

Limit or reduce stressors

Knowing our capacity and learning to say “no.” The first technique for managing stress is to become more self-aware in order to preserve our mental and emotional capacity. Being observant and learning to recognize the signs of our body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, increased alcohol and other substance use to relax, being easily angered, feeling depressed, weight loss or gain, sexual problems, headaches, frequent aches and pains, forgetfulness, and having low energy.

When we notice any of these symptoms of stress, we should acknowledge them for what they are. Sometimes we experience stress because we get overwhelmed by the number and complexity of the tasks we must perform. When we realize we are feeling stressed, we can anticipate stressful situations and do our best to avoid things that will increase our stress beyond our capacity to cope. We can cope with stress better when we lighten our load of responsibilities.

Plan well. Feeling the crunch of a deadline can be invigorating, and many people thrive in situations where they must meet a tight deadline. For others, however, facing deadlines when we are behind can induce a lot of stress. One way to overcome that particular stress is to plan well. By breaking up tasks into manageable portions and then distributing them across a schedule, we can relieve the pressure of having to work to meet a deadline down to the wire.

Planning well can help mitigate stress by preparing to meet those challenges before they become overwhelming. Setting clear goals and priorities, define what we need to do and when. Upfront planning can be a tremendous help later.

Working consistently and avoiding procrastination. Another challenge for many people in the working world is that tasks pile up and become overdue partly because of poor planning, but also in part because of an inconsistent work ethic and the challenges of procrastination.

For any number of reasons, from boredom, feeling unmotivated or uninspired, to feeling daunted by the task before us, we can struggle to get going with or finish tasks, and we can be inconsistent in how we apply ourselves to our work. Instead of working sporadically or delaying starting tasks, we can save ourselves a lot of stress down the road by working consistently while there isn’t as much time pressure.

Increase your capacity to manage stress

Take care of your body through good nutrition, decent sleep, taking breaks. Stress affects our mind and body, and we can work to help ourselves increase our capacity to cope better with stress. Self-care is important for mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, and it helps us to reset as our body undergoes stress.

We can also try a relaxing activity we enjoy to promote our wellness. Explore relaxation or wellness programs that incorporate muscle relaxation, meditation, or breathing exercises. Making time for these and other healthy and relaxing activities allow us to recover from the effects of stress and enable us to endure other stressors

When we find it hard to manage our stress, getting help through a life coach or therapist can help us find the balance we need.

Keep moving. Movement through any form of exercise not only reduces the cortisol levels in our system, but it increases mood-boosting neurochemicals such as endorphins. By getting regular exercise such as thirty minutes per day of walking, we can boost our mood and improve our health and sense of wellbeing.  Besides the exercise itself, seeing beauty in our surroundings while we are outside brings us outside of ourselves and gives us the opportunity to see God’s glory in His creation.

Recognize that God is in control. Often, our stress is linked to the mindset that everything is in our hands. Recognizing that some things are out of our control and resting in the knowledge that God is in ultimate control over our lives can give us rest.

We put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves when we live as if we are in control of and responsible for everything in our lives. While we are given a huge responsibility to walk wisely and steward our gifts well, we are never in control of the outcome.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). We do well to work hard and entrust ourselves to the Lord and His loving care.

If you’re looking for additional support beyond these suggested stress management techniques, I invite you to contact me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory to schedule an appointment.

Photos courtesy of Marianne Sicilia; all rights reserved; copyright 2022


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