Stress is something we all struggle with from time to time. Stress is simply the body’s natural response to the demands placed upon it; physically or emotionally speaking. Naturally, stress is a part of our daily lives as we navigate our family responsibilities, obligations within the workplace, and day-to-day challenges. In certain situations, this stress response can be crucial for survival. The “fight-or-flight mechanism” can tell us how to respond to danger through an intense stress response. Even in more common situations, such as a test or interview, stress can actually motivate us and help us perform better. However, all too often, the stress response is triggered too easily. When we face multiple stressors at one time or lack the coping skills necessary to deal with such intense stress – our own mental and physical health can be compromised. Researchers at Mayo have reported stress being linked to headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, digestive challenges and difficulty sleeping. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control has recorded symptoms linked to stress including but not limited to irritability, indecisiveness, emotionally numb, anxiety, anger, sadness, attention difficulties, and increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse. Stress is also one of the major causes for negative work performance and marriage difficulties.
The symptoms of stress are built up over time. Taking practical steps at better managing stress or even preventing some types of stress can reduce both the physical impact upon your body as well as the emotional drain.
- Recognize your stress: Increase your self-awareness of your own individual signs of stress. Signs of stress might look like: low tolerance for frustration, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, feeling “down,” or increased drug/alcohol use.
- Get outside: Discover new opportunities for outdoor experiences. Studies have shown that simply reconnecting with nature and increasing time outdoors naturally combats stress levels in even chronically stressed individuals.
- Practice self-care: Prioritize activities that bring you joy and refuel your emotional reserves. When stressed in any fashion, self-care must rise to the top of priorities in order for each of us to balance the stressful demands.
- Healthy sleep hygiene: Our bodies and minds also require time to “recharge”. To avoid emotional and physical vulnerability to stress, ensuring a pattern of healthy sleep hygiene is commonly recommended.
- Relaxation strategies: Explore opportunities to try new means of relaxation. Here in the northwoods, we have abundant opportunities in the natural world for relaxation. We also have numerous gyms, yoga classes, pilates classes, tai chi, meditation and spiritual reflection through local organizations.
- Stay active: Invest in social opportunities and community involvement. As humans, we thrive within relationships that help “fill our hearts”. Although such social events or interactions may go against our initial impulse to isolate, science has indicated that further investing in these healthy relationships not only improves mood but also decreases stress. Additionally, recent studies have demonstrated that contributing to others can naturally increase positive emotions. Thus, increased community involvement may not only be valuable socially but may be useful for emotional wellbeing as well.
- Find support: Seeking support from your partner, friend, pastor or counselor may be helpful in not only offering a listening ear but also releasing pressure and co-creating a plan to manage stress. You can find resources to help you find a mental health provider at www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp. You can also contact local county health and human service departments for local listings of providers as well. Anyone experiencing severe stress can become overwhelmed and even unstable. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 OR Northwest Connections Crisis Center at 888-552-6642
Submitted by: Gina Lundervold-Foley MS, LPC-IT, Northwest Passage
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