With April upon us, it’s finally “stress awareness month.” While you’re almost certainly aware of your stress (after all, stress is hard to ignore), how informed are you about stress in general?
Stress affects everyone. Whether you’re stressed from work, from school, from your family responsibilities, or even from the overwhelming events of the past year, it’s normal to feel burnt out from time to time.
What are the effects of stress on the body and mind, and how can you manage stress when it pops up?
We’re here to talk about it. Keep reading to learn all about stress.
What Is Stress?
It’s easy to understand stress when you understand that it has both physical and mental forms. Stress is any tension or pressure that’s put onto the body or mind.
When we feel stress, it means that our bodies are responding to demands that they aren’t used to. Our stress hormones fire up and send signals to our body to respond in a “fight or flight” scenario.
To understand where mental stress comes from, first consider this in the form of physical stress. Your body experiences stress when you start pushing it beyond its normal limitations. For example, when you lift weights, run, or even have a longer day at work than you’re used to.
In response to this stress, your body gets tired. Short-term, stress can be good. It can motivate you and make you stronger. Long-term, though, it starts to chip away at you.
Now think about how this applies to your mental stress. When you’re dealing with something that’s challenging, it applies pressure to your mind. Over time, that pressure compounds and weighs you down.
Like physical stress, in short bursts mental stress can give you motivation and energy. It’s good to challenge your brain. When that stress seems unending, though, it starts to take a serious toll on your mood and quality of life.
What Are the Effects of Stress?
So what happens when we get stressed out? Why is it a big deal to keep your mental stress under control?
There are several mental and physical health effects that stem from being over-stressed. Here are a few.
Physical Health Effects
While many people only consider the mental health effects of stress, too much stress can take a serious toll on your body.
Many people are familiar with the short-term physical effects of stress. You may experience headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, a loss of libido, gastrointestinal issues, and even a harder time recovering from normal daily activities.
When this stress goes on for too long it can result in more serious problems.
Over time, prolonged stress can result in a weakened immune system. This means that you’re going to be more prone to illness. Prolonged stress can also result in hypertension (or high blood pressure).
Because stress may make you too fatigued to exercise, can raise your blood sugar, and can lead to emotional eating, it can result in diabetes and obesity as well.
Mental Health Effects
Stress takes an obvious toll on your mental health.
Short-term stress can lead to insomnia. Your thoughts are whirling, your head is aching, and sleep is no longer an option. This then leads to irritability and trouble focusing.
What Are Good Stress Management Techniques?
So now that you know what stress is and what kind of effects it can have when left unchecked, what are you supposed to do about it? There are plenty of great ways to relieve stress even when you’re at home.
While there are countless ways to manage your stress, here are a few tried and true methods.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Many people have a lot of success with meditation and mindfulness practice when it comes to stress management.
Mindfulness is the practice of connecting with the world around you and the current moment rather than focusing on what’s going on in your head. Meditation is one way to center yourself and reach that mindfulness.
If you’re new to meditation, there’s an easy method to start. You’re going to be breathing in and out for five counts each. On your first breath in, press one nostril with your finger. On the breath out, switch nostrils.
Go back and forth, focusing on your breath, until your mind is off of your stress.
Exercise is a great way to de-stress.
When we exercise, our body releases endorphins. Endorphins are the “happy chemicals” in our brains. These chemicals help to ease anxiety and reduce pain.
Exercise also forces you to focus on your body and breathing instead of on your mind. When your focus is on running, lifting weights, swimming, or anything else that’s strenuous, you don’t have room for mental stress.
If you need a low-impact activity, yoga is a perfect blend of mindfulness and exercise. Yogic breathing encourages you to focus on your breath and shut the world out.
While the meditation breathing technique that we mentioned earlier is helpful, there are other breathing techniques that you can use when you’re not in a meditative mood.
When you focus on slowing down and deepening your breath, your body starts to relax because this is how you breathe when you’re relaxed. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system which brings you into a more restful state.
There are several varieties of breathing exercises, so find one that works for you.
Stress Awareness Month: Are You Stressed?
If you’re struggling to figure out how to cope with stress, it might be time to seek out professional mental health help. These coping mechanisms are great, but part of true stress awareness is knowing when you can no longer handle it on your own.