“Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”
Stress and worry go hand in hand. Something you perceive as stressful happens, you become overwhelmed and begin to worry. Then you worry some more, possibly add in other related points to worry about, start worrying about them too, and it just continues. Before you know it you’re saying, “I’m so stressed out!”
Let’s face it, stress is a normal part of life—there’s no escaping it, but how we handle stress and stressful events is vital to living a healthy, happy life. What’s more, how we respond is often more in our control than we realize. Learning a few ways to relieve stress can help you go from being ‘stressed out’ to feeling more in control and calm.
What is Stress?
So what exactly is stress? And why are we all so stressed out?
Stress is the body’s reaction to certain stimuli. You’ve probably heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response which is also called the acute stress response. This physiological reaction to perceived danger or threat to survival activates the sympathetic nervous system impacting the body in various ways. Heart rate increases, respiration rates increase, the liver begins converting more glycogen to glucose, pupils dilate, and the skin becomes pale or flushed.
In addition to these physical responses, thoughts also quicken and there is increased focus on one factor, such as the threat or how to escape. And while the ‘fight or flight’ response is critical for survival, when this response is activated for prolonged periods of time it can lead to serious health issues, including physical problems and mental health disorders.
It’s important to realize there are different types of stress and not all of it is bad. Some stressful situations will garner wonderful things in our lives once we’ve navigated the difficult parts. For example, having a baby is stressful but the end result—unimaginable love and bonding. Interviewing for a new job or a promotion is also somewhat stressful for many, but the reward of more income, being more respected, doing something you love is immeasurable.
Stress is bad when it is prolonged. Stress is bad when you don’t have healthy coping skills to manage it.
Stress is defined as any event that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain. It is the body responding to any situation that it interprets as needing relatively quick action or attention. Generally speaking, there are two types of stress:
Chronic stress is when you feel overwhelmed, ‘stressed out’, or under pressure for a prolonged period of time.
Acute stress is an intense and unpleasant response to an event that occurs shortly after the event and lasts less than one month.
How Stress Impacts the Body
Chronic stress can lead to all sorts of other issues. With chronic stress, the stress is ongoing so the signal to the body to ‘turn off’ the stress responses never occurs so the body functioning doesn’t return to normal.
Chronic stress is bad for your physical health as well as mental health. When chronic stress goes on indefinitely without any break, treatment, or employing healthy coping skills it can lead to more serious problems—both physical and mental.
Chronic stress can lead to problems with the following:
- Immune system
- Digestive system
- Reproductive system
- Cardiovascular system
- Mood disturbances
- Sleep issues
- Body aches
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Sadly, many today live with chronic stress. Long-term chronic stress left untreated can lead to heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, mental health disorders, and other illnesses. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than 75% of adults report they experience physical symptoms of chronic stress such as headaches, sleep issues, or fatigue.
If you’re feeling ‘stress out’ or overwhelmed, you aren’t alone. And what’s important to keep in mind is that there are ways to relieve stress, both short-term and long-term. When you have a few stressed-out moments here and there, using some of the suggested ways to relieve stress fast will be helpful.
However, if you find yourself dealing with chronic stress or PTSD, then getting professional help is key. The short-term suggestions can help and be used ongoing, however, when it comes to stress that has lasted more than a month it’s best to seek help from professionals.
Futures Recovery Healthcare now offers an inpatient mental health treatment unit for adults 18 years of age and older. If stress is getting to you, take action now. The sooner you do something the better. If inpatient isn’t what you need, we can guide you to resources to help you.
What Causes Stress?
It’s important to understand that often what causes stress for one person doesn’t cause stress for the next. There are many who believe that it is how we perceive the situation more than the actual situation itself that causes ‘stress’. And while in some situations this may be true, when it comes to stress caused by trauma, it most likely isn’t. However, it’s vital to understand that the thought process that accompanies the stressful event, ongoing event, or situation, is often what is causing the feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed out.
Stress can come from routine things like managing kids, work, and life. It can be from a specific event like a job loss or divorce. And, stress can also be a result of a traumatic event—either one you experience directly, witness, or in some way are significantly impacted by it. Examples of these include accidents, wars, assaults, etc.
When it comes to stress and ways to relieve stress, the first thing to remember is that it’s okay to be stressed and feel overwhelmed. As mentioned, what is stressful to one person may not be stressful to the next. One of the keys to relieve stress is to accept that you are feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. Often people place even more stress on themselves when they fight how they are feeling. Acceptance of this is vital.
Now let’s discuss some great ways to relieve stress—fast!
Many times this is the last thing someone wants to hear when they are experiencing acute stress, however, it really works. ‘Just breathe’ can be hard to hear and hard to do when you are feeling anxious and stressed. However, it’s worth trying. There are a few different types of breathing that are specifically suggested to help ease stress. Here are a few:
- Deep breathing
- Equal in and out breathing
- Lion’s breathe breathing
- 4-7-8 breath
- Alternate nostril breathing
It’s a good idea to get to know each of these breathing techniques and begin to use them when you aren’t experiencing acute stress. That way, when you are, you’ll know what to do.
There are different techniques for using grounding to help relieve stress and anxiety. One of the most used is the 54321 technique. In this approach, you name either out loud or to yourself the following:
- Five things you see
- Four things you feel
- Three things you hear
- Two things you smell
- One thing you taste
This helps to get your mind centered in the present. Being in the ‘present moment’ is helpful for warding off worry, stress, and anxiety.
- Visualization and mantras
Guided visualization or guided imagery as it’s also known, can be done anywhere, at any time. Basically, this involves using your imagination to picture or visualize yourself in your ‘happy place’. This can be anywhere that gives you a sense of calm, happiness, and peace of mind. Be it the beach, a riverbank, or wherever, visualizing yourself in a place can help shift the stress response a bit.
A predetermined mantra can also be helpful to relieve stress. A mantra is a word or phrase you repeat to yourself over and over in order to help in concentration and meditation. Some examples of mantras helpful when you’re trying to relieve stress are:
- Everything is exactly on schedule
- Everything is always working out
- Nothing lasts forever
- Things are happening for me, not to me
- It will get done
It’s a good idea to try to find one or two and begin with those. Pick ones that resonate with you. You can even make up your own.
- Positive Affirmations
Listening to or saying positive affirmations can help to stop negative or unpleasant thought patterns. For many, stress comes from the thoughts that an event, situation, or ongoing concern causes. Changing these thought patterns can be key in ways to reduce stress.
Simply search for ‘positive affirmations’ on YouTube or use an app on your phone. There are numerous apps such as Insight Timer, The Mindfulness App, calm, and more that can help you slow down and change racing thoughts.
- Prayer and meditation
Leaning into spirituality and religion during times of stress can make a big difference. When you feel stress coming on or are in a stressful situation, saying a prayer, doing a quiet meditation, and trusting that all will be well can really help.
There are many different religions and beliefs, practically one for everyone. No matter what your religious affiliation, if any, you can find a power greater than yourself to believe in, turn to, and trust, you could not only find instant relief from stress but also long-term relief from chronic stress. All you need is an open mind.
In life, there’s just no getting away from stress. However, you don’t have to live with chronic stress or PTSD running your life. If you are looking for immediate ways to relieve stress, try some of the above suggestions. If you have chronic stress, an anxiety disorder, PTSD, or depression seek help from a professional.
Futures is here for you or your loved one. We treat not only mental health issues but also co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues like anxiety disorders, depression, and trauma-related issues. Contact us today so you can start healing tomorrow. Call 866-804-2098.