April is Stress Awareness Month! Stress is your brain and body’s response to everyday stimuli. Since it’s a normal, physiological response, some stress is healthy. However, chronic stress negatively impacts both physical and mental health.
In order to learn how to maintain healthy stress levels, it’s important to understand what causes stress, the mental and physical side effects, and common ways to manage your stress levels every day.
Stress-Related Physical and Mental Side Effects
When you’re stressed, it triggers your fight-or-flight response. This built-in system assesses if the stimuli is a threat worth facing or fleeing from. This is a good thing in mild cases because it gives your body the necessary tools to overcome stress. However, high amounts of stress lead to raised cortisol levels, which have negative side effects.
When your body constantly activates this response, it causes physical and mental problems. For instance, chronic stress leads to heart palpitations, body aches, insomnia, and a weaker immune system. Stress also makes you prone to panic attacks, anxiety, and even depression.
Often, people try to overcome their stress with unhealthy habits like drugs, alcohol, and gambling. In addition to the physical toll stressors take on your body, unhealthy habits can cause disease and eventually death.
Common Causes of Stress
Keep in mind, there are both positive and negative causes of stress. For instance, the death of a loved one can raise cortisol levels during the grieving process. Going through a tough divorce, losing your job, and increased financial responsibilities are also negative causes of raised cortisol levels.
Sometimes, the stress comes from internal issues. One cause can be fear or uncertainty of your future. Another reason may be trying to live up to expectations that are too high. Sometimes, changes like moving to an unfamiliar place or going to a new school are responsible for your anxiety symptoms.
On the other hand, there are positive events that cause raised stress levels. For example, preparing for a new baby, getting married, and getting a promotion at work are positive reasons for raised cortisol levels.
Healthy Ways to Manage Stress
Trying to avoid stressful situations creates more anxiety, leading to high cortisol levels. Since everyone experiences stress, it’s best to know how to use healthy coping mechanisms. When you notice yourself getting overwhelmed, there are several ways to calm down, including:
Sometimes, deep breathing techniques like mediation can help you de-stress. Unlike many other stress-relief methods, you can practice meditation wherever you are. Taking a few moments to meditate during a stressful situation lowers your cortisol levels, helps you learn to be patient, and allows you to gain a new perspective.
If you have a medical condition triggered by stress, it’s worth giving meditation a try. Research shows that meditation helps with asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression-related symptoms. There are many types of meditation, so choose which one is right for you.
If you’re constantly dealing with stress, it’s possible you’re not practicing enough self-care. Self-care means prioritizing your well-being and includes eating well, exercising, and of course, meditation. You can also use aromatherapy or scents to improve your mood, give you clarity, and even help you go to sleep.
Many people underestimate a powerful self-care tool: the ability to say no. The inability to say no to other’s requests puts a lot of pressure on you to meet their expectations. By saying no, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed and have more time to focus on your needs.
Speaking to Someone
In some cases, overcoming stress is too much for you to handle. When this happens, reach out to someone you trust for support.
If a loved one cannot help you, reaching out to a professional may be the answer. Based on your medical history, your primary care doctor can help you find a way to ease your stress-related symptoms and improve your overall health. They can also refer you to a mental health professional if necessary.
As we get closer to Stress Awareness Month, it’s important to learn healthy ways to maintain our cortisol levels. Practicing routine self-care, meditating, and reaching out to loved ones for support are simple ways to de-stress. Remember, seeking professional help in emergencies is also beneficial for your overall well-being.
Do you need help finding a primary care provider to help you better manage your stress? Use the ABS Provider Search Tool to find a doctor in your network.