The Importance of Managing Stress
Do you know the days that feel like the world is working against you? Maybe you snooze your alarm only to hit a traffic jam on the way to work before an important quarterly meeting with your boss. All you can think about is being late to work. You start to sweat and try to ignore the grumble of your empty stomach. You feel flustered, angry--stressed.
In an ideal world, these scenarios would happen rarely. In reality, we’re faced with different versions of this situation daily or weekly. Everyone faces short-term stress like running late to work or a flat tire. Many people also have long-term sources of stress like chronic illness, financial troubles, or caring for a loved one. These different sources of stress can compound over time, taking a toll on your overall quality of life if left unchecked.
So how do you know if you’re stressed? It seems simple, but there are a few factors to consider if you want to truly understand the scope of the stress in your life.
Outside of acutely stressful situations, you can also have long-term stressors in your life like a chronic illness or financial troubles. While you may learn to live with this stress, it can start to affect your overall mood and behavior if you don’t manage it properly. You may notice that it’s harder to focus or that you’re more irritable than usual. You may have a nagging feeling of overwhelmed, sadness, or restlessness that you can’t shake. These can all be normal feelings to experience from time to time, but it’s important to realize that they may stem from long-term stressors when these negative feelings start to become persistent.
In turn, these negative feelings can start to affect your behavior. Have you noticed that you are being more withdrawn lately? Are you reaching for your comfort foods more than usual? Or maybe you just can’t seem to exercise as much as you used to. Stress can slowly start to steal healthy behaviors from your routine, making it all the more important to manage the symptoms as they pop up.
According to Johns Hopkins HealthCare Solutions team, the “Mind-Body Connection is the belief that the causes, development, and outcomes of a physical illness are determined from the interaction of psychological, social factors and biological factors.” You may be familiar with the thoughts that happen when you’re stressed, but you may not realize that there are physical symptoms as well. Some physical symptoms to notice are headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, and muscle tension. If you experience these frequently and can’t seem to find a cause, you may want to consider the stressors in your life.
Luckily, you can learn how to manage your overall stress levels and find relief from physical and mental health symptoms. Finding ways to help manage your stress can even improve your wellness, productivity, relationships, and immune function. You should aim to practice a few stress management techniques to build up your overall resilience and quality of life.
One way to manage stress is to start with your mindset. Meditation is proven to change the way your brain functions by boosting the ability to regulate your emotions and increase your self-control. Learning to meditate can help you become the observer of your thoughts. Remember the scenario where you’re stuck in a traffic jam before an important meeting? If you keep up a regular meditation practice, you can learn to manage negative thought patterns that contribute to your stress response. Your typical reaction might look something like road rage, but meditation teaches you to choose a calmer response instead. You’ll learn to accept the stressful situation, focus on the moment, and understand that you can only control your reaction. You’ll also start to reap other benefits of meditation like increased productivity from better focus, memory, and creativity.
Another proven coping skill is a consistent exercise routine. It’s important to realize that this is different from an exercise routine meant to attain a certain body image. To reduce stress, it’s less about the reps and more about the experience of moving your body. In this 2018 study, researchers found that taking a 10-minute walk has been proven to increase the mood of participants. If you can find a form of exercise that you enjoy and stick to consistently, you’ll be sure to find some relief from your stress. You may also find that you have better sleep, increased confidence, and increased focus.
If you’re considering upping your exercise routine, you may also want to think about cleaning up your diet. Research shows that about 95% of your serotonin is made in your gut, which is a key hormone for balancing mood. In order to increase your gut health, start small by choosing whole, unprocessed foods. Researchers have shown that for people who follow a Mediterranean diet “the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet.” While stress and depression are not the same, being chronically stressed is a risk factor for depression. Staying mindful about your diet choices can have other benefits like improving your energy and reducing inflammation too.
Lastly, another useful stress management technique is journaling. While many people may think this is too time-consuming, studies show that journaling is clearly effective at reducing stress and even improving mood over time. When you journal, you can manage your stress by identifying triggers, confronting negative thought patterns, and tracking your mood over longer periods than you may be able to remember otherwise. Writing every day can help you release those stressful events or thoughts from your mind. It’s worth setting aside a few minutes every day to manage your stress, gain clarity, and perspective by journaling about the good and bad in your life.
It’s important to find coping skills and tools that help you manage stress that worked for you. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms of stress, but anyone can learn to manage their stress. By using coping skills like meditation, exercise, and journaling, you can truly find relief from stress. Remember that you should tackle stress with a well-rounded approach. Try to find multiple coping skills that you can implement into your daily life. The best part? Staying consistent with stress management techniques can actually improve your life so that you can start to thrive.