Futures Recovery

Stress, Mental Health, and Addiction

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Are you stressed out? Do you feel overwhelmed? Chances are you do. About 60% of American adults report being ‘stressed’, according to a 2020 Gallup poll. What’s even more concerning is that this number has increased at an unprecedented rate (14%) since the pandemic. Normally, the number of American adults who report being ‘stressed out’ stays relatively the same with small fluctuations from one year to the next. 

Additionally, it’s important to note that more individuals in the Gen Z age group are struggling with higher levels of stress than any other generation. According to research, 6.1 of 10 people from Gen Z report experiencing high levels of stress. The Gen Z group includes adults aged 18 to 23 years. 

The pandemic has resulted in more and more adults—as well as kids, teens, and young adults—feeling the pressure. This is not only from the pandemic, but also from civil unrest, and the state of the world. November 3, 2021 is National Stress Awareness Day and there’s no better time to get a handle on your stress and find healthy ways to cope and reduce it. 

What is Stress? 

First, it’s important to understand a little bit about stress. There is ‘good’ stress and then there is ‘bad’ stress. While most of us may feel like any kind of stress is bad, that’s not really the case. ‘Good’ stress can help us do well on tests, in interviews, during presentations, and more. In times of immediate danger, stress can save our lives and sometimes the lives of our loved ones. 

Everyone faces some type of stress. Whether it’s minor, occasional stress, or more frequent and severe stress, our bodies are designed to sense stress and then respond appropriately. When our bodies sense stress there are both physical and mental reactions. 

The body responds to stress in several ways. When you are faced with danger or perceived danger, the pulse rate quickens, the heart rate speeds up, muscles tense up, and the brain uses more oxygen and picks up activity. All of these physical responses occur because the brain is preparing the body to ‘fight’ or ‘flee’, as in ‘fight or flight response’. 

After the danger passes, the body returns to normal functioning and life resumes as before. The problem arises when there is chronic stress. With chronic stress, the body remains in ‘fight or flight’ mode for prolonged periods of time. When the body operates in fight or flight mode on an ongoing basis, trouble can begin. 

Sadly, this type of chronic stress is what most Americans are living with today. And the impacts on the body, mind, and spirit can be devastating. 

Physical Effects of Chronic Stress

When it comes to chronic stress, the body never gets the signal to return to normal functioning. The changes it undergoes in order to deal with the stress then continues. This can result in harmful effects on the body. Chronic stress can impact:

  • Immune system
  • Digestive system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Reproductive system
  • Sleep patterns

When these issues are continual, the results can be high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and more disabling and deadly conditions. 

In addition, chronic stress impacts your mental health. Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders. These, in turn, can also have negative impacts on your physical health further exacerbating the issues. 

If you or a loved one are dealing with chronic stress it’s vital to seek help. The sooner you do so the better. When chronic stress is handled early on, you can decrease the risk of developing these physical and mental health issues mentioned. However, when stress just continues on and on left unchecked, the results can be more severe. 

Chronic Stress and Substance Abuse 

There are many different ways to deal with stress. Some are healthy, some are not. As mentioned, substance abuse can be a result of chronic stress. Some people may wonder how stress and alcohol or substance abuse are connected. 

When someone is dealing with stress, they will often use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. Most everyone has said or heard someone say they want to go out and ‘blow off some steam’. In other words, they are stressed out and need relief from the stress. Many times this can mean a night out with friends or happy hour after a long work week. And while this may help relieve some surface-level stress, it can be the start of a bad habit. 

This well-meaning way to relieve some of the stress and anxiety can—and often does—turn into a coping mechanism for stress. Over time, when someone begins to rely on alcohol or another substance, it can lead to dependence and even addiction. This is one reason it’s so vital to not only learn healthy ways to cope with stress but also to get help sooner than later when it comes to chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that about 7.7 million Americans suffer from a  mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety and substance abuse issues such as alcohol addiction. It can be difficult to determine which presented first, but it is often discovered during treatment that the substances were used to help with the other mental health disorder. 

No matter which occurred first, it’s important to get treatment for them both at the same time. This will give you the best chance at long-term recovery from both. If, for example, you or a loved one have an alcohol issue but are also suffering from depression it’s vital to treat both. If you only get treatment for the substance use disorder, in this example alcohol dependence, then once you leave treatment without addressing the depression, it’s more likely that you would then pick up alcohol to help ease the pain of the depression. As you can see, it’s essential that any co-occurring disorders be treated at the same time. 

When it comes to an alcohol or substance abuse issue, professional treatment is essential. Professional help is equally important when it comes to mental health disorders too. However, when it comes to ways to cope with stress, there are steps you can take yourself to help lessen stress and deal with it when it comes.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

Often we can feel almost paralyzed by stress. When it comes to chronic stress this can be true as well. In addition, when it comes to chronic stress many people can become stuck in their unhealthy coping habits. However, making some small adjustments can really go a long way. 

Here are a few tried and true ways to cope with stress:

  • Exercise

When someone is stressed out they may not want to take the time or make the effort to exercise. However, research shows that 30 minutes of exercise can improve mood, reduce tension, improve sleep, and even boost self-esteem. You don’t have to run on a treadmill or jog in a park, you can find your own kind of exercise to engage in for stress relief.

  • Breathing

Most everyone has heard someone tell another to ‘take a deep breath’ when they are upset. And while this often sounds cliche, deep breathing can reap tremendous benefits when it comes to stress—both short and long-term. There are numerous types of breathing methods that help to slow the body’s nervous system and calm you. Learn more about breathing techniques for stress reduction.

  • Observe

It’s important to be observant of your body and what is going on with it. Pay attention to areas where stress manifests for you. Do you get tense shoulders and neck? Do you start to feel restless and irritable? Are you having sleep issues? When you realize that you are showing signs of being stressed out, take a step back and start using some of these healthy ways to cope with stress. 

  • Connections

Staying connected in some way to others who care is important to help with stress. Maintain relationships with family and good friends even when you are ‘stressed out’. These connections will help you to be resilient and bounce back from times of stress more easily. 

  • Ask for help

For many people, asking for help can be the most difficult thing to do. However, everyone needs help from time to time. It’s important to be able to reach out and ask for help. If you are overwhelmed with daily activities and chores, ask someone to pitch in and help. If your budget allows, hire someone to give you an extra hand around the house with cleaning or some other chore. Often there are teenagers looking to make a few extra bucks who will gladly clean your house, cut your grass, or even help with kids. 

If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or really overwhelmed with life and stress, reach out to your primary caregiver, find a counselor, talk to your religious leader, or seek treatment for any co-occurring substance abuse issues. 

The sooner you get help, the better. No matter how stressed out you may feel now, it’s important to realize that it doesn’t have to stay this way and it will get better. If you or a loved one need help with substance abuse or mental health disorder, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. We offer three different residential treatment programs for alcohol and substance abuse. In addition, we successfully treat co-occurring disorders. Futures is also proud to have an inpatient treatment program solely devoted to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. 

Asking for help can be the hardest step but it can also result in the greatest rewards. Connect with Futures today and start healing tomorrow. Visit us online to learn more or call 866-804-2098.

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