Beep, beep, beep! It’s your Monday morning alarm. You shoot up in bed as you slam it off. You’ve accidentally snoozed one too many times, and now you’re on track to be late. To make up time, you skip breakfast and speed to work. You finally make it in but haven’t had your morning coffee and can feel your stomach gurgling with hunger pangs. Your head and heart are racing as you finally make it to your desk.
This tumultuous beginning to your week has likely made you incredibly stressed. And this stress is affecting your ability to perform even the most basic tasks. You can try to clear your mind, but you’re still hungry, and your mind is still racing, which only further exacerbates the issue. All of us, at one point or another, have felt this kind of stress.
But you likely don’t know the entire list of adverse impacts stress plays upon your body and mind. Or, even if you do, you don’t know how to stop the stress from further deteriorating. That’s why in this article, we’re going to define stress, tell you how it’s negatively impacting your body, and how to stop stressing out. Without proper stress management techniques, you’ll be hard-pressed to fight back against stress. So, keep reading to learn how to stop stressing out so much.
Stress is a physical and emotional reaction people experience to changes in their lives. It’s a typical part of everyone’s life. It’s a reaction hardwired into our brains since our years as hunters and gatherers. Still, long-term stress can contribute to a wide range of mental and physical health issues. We’ll cover the adverse impact of stress below.
Negative Effects of Stress
Both acute and chronic stress can have an enormous impact on both your body and mind. Here’s a complete breakdown of how stress can negatively affect each major system in your body.
When your body is stressed, your muscles tense up. This muscle tension is like a reflex reaction to stress, your body’s way of protecting itself against injury and pain. Chronic stress can cause the muscles in your body to be in an almost constant state of guardedness.
But when your muscles are tense like this for long, it can trigger other reactions in your body. For example, both tension headaches and migraine headaches are associated with chronic muscle tension in your shoulders, neck, and head. Similarly, stress, especially job stress, is also linked to pain in the lower back and upper extremities.
Strong emotions like stress can present within your respiratory system through symptoms like shortness of breath and rapid breathing. Typical respiratory systems can handle these stressor-induced symptoms, but stressors can exacerbate breathing problems for those with pre-existing respiratory diseases such as asthma or COPD. Some studies have shown acute stress – momentary or short-term stress – can even trigger asthma attacks, and rapid breathing common with stress can induce a panic attack.
Acute stress can also wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system by causing an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of your heart muscle. Similarly, chronic stress – experienced over a prolonged period – can contribute to long-term problems for your heart and blood vessels.
A consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and blood pressure, take a toll on your body. These effects can increase your risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. Additionally, repeated acute stress or persistent chronic stress can contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system and adversely impact your cholesterol levels.
When your brain perceives a threat, it initiates a chain of events within your body’s endocrine system. This chain of events is the release of glucocorticoids, including cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone.” But chronic stress can result in impaired communication between your immune system and HPA axis, which is the primary driver of the endocrine system’s stress response.
This impaired communication has been linked to the development of multiple numerous physical and mental health conditions. These conditions include chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes, obesity), depression, and immune disorders.
Stress can have a significant impact on your body’s brain-gut communication, which can trigger pain, bloating, and other forms of gut discomfort. This miscommunication has tangible, harmful effects on individual parts of your gastrointestinal system like your esophagus, stomach, and bowel.
Chronic stress can result in a long-term drain on your body. If your autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes tangible wear and tear on your body. This continuous activation of your nervous system has significant adverse effects on other bodily systems.
Like other bodily systems, stress negatively affects the health of both male and female reproductive systems. These adverse impacts include a decline in libido, lower sperm motility and morphology, infection, painful menstruation, pregnancy complications, worsened menopausal symptoms.
How to Stop Stressing Out
There’s no one magic answer for how to stop stressing out. Still, you can employ several stress management techniques to help you combat the adverse impacts of stress. Here are nine stress management tips to assist you.
1.) Practice Mindfulness (yoga, meditation, etc.)
Thanks to the last 20 years, we now have extensive research showing how mindfulness can help with a variety of mental health issues, including stress. Mindfulness exercises like yoga, meditation, or journaling can help improve your mood and retain a sense of calm.
2.) Deep-Breathing Exercises
You can use deep-breathing exercises to both calm yourself if you’re anxious or help you remain grounded if you sense stress coming. Deep-breathing exercises are both proven to help and easy to employ no matter where you are. You can try the Box breathing method (used by the Navy Seals) or the 4-7-8 breathing method today.
These practices help your body induce the “relaxation response.” This response helps you slow your heart rate, drop your blood pressure, decrease muscle tension, and decrease the production of stress hormones. Plus, these positive effects can last for up to 24 hours!
3.) Utilize Reframing
Reframing is a simple mental exercise that entails examining a stressor or negative situation and explaining it (realistically and honestly) in positive or neutral ways. Often, when something negative happens to us, we get emotionally absorbed with this negative.
Still, this line of thinking is typically dishonest, as it’s usually only a fraction of the whole picture. So, use your critical thinking faculties to see your situation in a new light. This reframing will help you see the entire picture, the pros and cons, the positives and the negatives.
4.) Practice Gratitude
One strategy that’s been effective for helping to manage stress is practicing active gratitude. When you’re overwhelmed by stress, try writing down a list of things you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a long list; even three things will do. Practicing this kind of active gratitude will help you focus on what’s going well in your life and improve your sense of well-being and decrease levels of perceived stress.
5.) When in Doubt, Write it Out
According to Psychology Today, researchers have found those with low self-esteem feel better when they write about an activity they enjoy, but NOT when they write positive self-affirmations. The opposite is true for those with high self-esteem. So, whichever group you belong to, write out either positive self-affirmations or activities you enjoy. Either way, this act will help you feel better and more positive.
6.) Get Active
If you’re upset or feeling stressed, take some time to exercise. Exercising away your negative emotions can prevent you from saying or doing something negative in the heat of the moment. It doesn’t have to be a marathon exercise session; even a short walk will increase endorphin production. These endorphins help reduce stress and improve your mood.
7.) Change Your Relationship with Food
People can use food, like they do drugs or alcohol, to help them cope with stress. But unlike drugs or alcohol, you still have to eat (at least) three times a day. So, make sure you’re not skipping meals, and try to opt for healthy food choices when possible. If you’re a stress eater, try to find a substitute to make you feel better. For example, a warm cup of tea, or a soothing bath, are comforting activities that can help you relax guilt-free.
8.) Understand What is and Isn’t in Your Control
One of the keys to stress management is understanding what is and isn’t under your control. If something is causing you stress, first decide what you can do about it, if anything. Then, make a plan and implement it, one step at a time. Focus on each step rather than the thing as a whole.
Focusing on your plan, what you can control, instead of everything you can’t, will help you reduce negative thoughts. Taking action will also help you avoid the habit of ruminating on negativity. And, if you find yourself thinking negative things, or being anxious, notice it and change it.
For example, let’s say you consistently find yourself thinking, “I always forget what to say.” First, ask yourself, is this true? Likely, you don’t ALWAYS forget what to say. So, find some examples of when you didn’t forget what to say. Then, change it. “Sometimes I forget what to say, but I am ALWAYS good at listening.” This simple act of noticing your negative thoughts and modifying them can help you focus on what you can control.
9.) Talk to a Professional
Lastly, if your stress is persistent or overwhelming, you may need to seek professional assistance. Both acute and chronic stress can quickly become overpowering. So, if you know it’s negatively impacting your life but don’t know how to stop stressing out, consider seeking a therapist or psychiatrist.
Our team of licensed experts can work with you to learn how to stop stressing out and any other issues you may be struggling with. Plus, at Compassionate Minds Therapy, we work with each of our patients to create an individualized treatment plan that works best for you at a time that’s most convenient for you. If you’re ready improve your stress management, or any other mental health issue, contact a Compassionate Minds therapist today.