Do you understand your stress and recognize it before it gets overwhelming? April is designated as stress awareness month.  All have experienced stress from various life circumstances. Understanding what stress is, the physical/emotional changes we experience from it, what to look for, and tips to manage it can be very rewarding. You’ll gain a greater sense of peace when you build confidence in how you handle potentially stressful situations.

Stress is a common reaction to our bodies’ experience in withstanding resistance,  pressure, and fear of change that has an emotional and physical response.   Stress is a positive thing in situations like preparing for life transitions, danger, and deadlines which keeps us motivated and alert.  However, if it’s prolonged it can cause severe emotional distress and illness.  In other words, it is categorized into 2 types called acute and chronic.  

a woman under Stress

According to Fred K. Berger in 2020, acute stress goes away quickly. You feel it when you slam on the brakes, have a fight with your partner, approach a deadline at work, or when getting on a roller coaster. Chronic stress lasts for a longer period like weeks or months long. You may have chronic stress if you have money problems, an unhappy marriage/relationship, or trouble at work. 

As we go through life and experience stress, we must understand the emotional and physical reactions to it.  Whether it be acute or chronic, the physical signs include muscle tension, increased heart rate, little to no sex drive, chest pains, headaches, shakiness, digestive issues, sleep difficulties, and even a compromised immune system.  The emotional signs include anxiety, depression, panic attacks, crying spells, worry, racing thoughts, irritability, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, and scatterbrain.  

Some who may be reading this will find that this isn’t resonating with you. This could be because you have also navigated life with these signs and have normalized them as your standard functioning which could have been learned from childhood, peer influence, or social narrative. This means that for you to achieve success, you think you are supposed to experience emotional and physical stress in your daily routine.  

a female rubbing her head under stress

Well, this is not the case. The feeling of stress is not a positive sign of success. If you think this is so, then you are also engaging in unhealthy coping habits; these could lead you to avoidant and distracting behaviors, preventing you from recognizing the signs of stress and which category you may fall under.  

This cycle tends to manifest into serious health issues, especially if you are dependent on unhealthy behaviors such as stress eating, drugs, alcohol, smoking, and compulsively engaging in sex, video games, social media, and internet browsing.

Read on to learn detailed ways to relieve and prevent stress. These are particularly helpful for individuals who experience prolonged stress.

Stress relief strategies include: 

  • Exercise
  • Breathing techniques
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Write down stressful moments in a journal to process during quiet time
  • Rest
  • Meditation
  • Laughter
  • Write a to-do list and prioritize 
  • Give yourself grace 
  • Reciting mantras or positive affirmations
  • Develop and maintain a self-care routine
  • Incorporating aromatherapy in your space of peace
  • Connect with family and friends
  • Practice mindfulness. (If unsure of how to do this seek a therapist for guidance)
  • Spend time in nature. (go for a walk, read outside, cultivate a garden, or even work outside instead of office setting if profession permits.)
make a to-do list to deal with stress

As you process the strategies to cope with stress, it is important to…

  • Seek a therapist for ongoing support
  • Maintain  healthy eating habits
  • Maintain healthy sleep patterns
  • Avoid procrastination
  • Be assertive of your needs
  • Establish healthy boundaries 
  • Say no
  • Avoid people pleasing if it means overextending self
  • Practice the 4 A’s of stress management- avoid, alter, adapt, accept (therapy can help with understanding this framework)
  • Set realistic expectations and goals
  • Familiarize yourself with triggers and certain situations that may cause stress and limit exposure if possible and if not utilize coping techniques
  • Understanding core beliefs, emotions, and values can help with decision-making to prevent participation in things that don’t bring satisfaction.

Stress is a good indicator of the need to make adjustments. Stress should be handled using one or all of these tips so you won’t feel overwhelmed or lost.  

During your journey, remind yourself that it is normal and ok to take a step back.  This will keep your stress at manageable levels. Also, take note that you won’t always have the answers, be perfect, or problem-solve every matter. 

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