slow down: 10 reasons to manage stress

 

"I'm so stressed out!"

You've heard it hundreds of times, often spoken by yourself! Stress is one of the biggest health problems in the U.S. (yes, a health problem.) As a country we have a hard time prioritizing our own needs over responsibilities like our jobs... In fact, studies show that Americans are the most overworked population in the western world. 

So what makes stress so unhealthy? To answer that, let's take a quick look at what the word "stress" means in a medical context: 

Stress - a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (e.g. pressures of work) or internal (e.g. physical or mental illness). Stress initiates the "fight-or-flight" response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinological systems.

In plain English - stress is anything your brain perceives as a threat, any kind of threat: a fast approaching deadline, family issues, social responsibilities, the effects of an illness... the list could go on and on. This "threat" activates your fight-or-flight instincts, and a cocktail of chemicals and hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, are released into your system. These chemicals cause reactions like accelerated heart rate, shaking, constriction of blood vessels, and other physiological responses that can damage your physical health. Your mental health is also greatly affected, especially in times of chronic stress.

How do you know if you have chronic (long-term or consistent) stress issues? There are a few signs to look out for, including

  1. sleep irregularities, like sleeping too much or having insomnia

  2. muscle tension/aches

  3. headaches

  4. gastrointestinal problems

  5. fatigue

  6. anxiety

  7. changes in eating habits (overeating or under-eating) and weight gain or loss

  8. loss of enthusiasm or energy

  9. mood changes

  10. worsening symptoms of a pre-existing medical condition such as anxiety or depression.

(These signs on their own don't necessarily indicate stress problems and could be linked to another medical/psychological condition, but this is a basic list.)

So what is there to do? what are the ways to manage stress?

  1. Learn to spot stress. Stress can show up in many different ways. A common sign of holding too much stress can be feeling tightness or soreness around your neck, shoulders, and back. Stress could also cause headaches, giving you a pounding sensation around your eyes or temples. However, physical pain may not always be the sole indicator of too much stress. Stress can manifest itself in other ways, too, such as diminishing your focus or productivity, or making you feel less calm.
  2. Talk to someone who listens: A simple, quick stress reliever can be talking to someone about the things that are making you feel stressed.
  3. Consider massage. Seek out a local massage therapist and schedule an hour-long appointment.  Or, see if your workplace has options that can help you—some offices bring in massage therapists who, for a nominal charge, can give you a brief (usually 10 or 15 minutes long) stress-reducing massage.  Research from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami reported that massage therapy has been effective in reducing stress and improving performance for employees who have received massages at their workplace.
  4. Get in touch with your inner yogi. Yoga combines stretching of the body and meditation of the mind, which can help reduce tension and promote relaxation. But yoga’s potential benefits don’t stop there—it can also improve posture and stimulate weight loss.
  5. Just breathe. Breathing therapy is free and can be done anywhere! It involves integrating meditation, movement, breathing, and body awareness all at once; these exercises promote a relaxing mind-body connection that can help lessen stress and tension.
  6. Think happy thoughts. Don’t underestimate the power of positive thinking. Studies have shown that optimism and eliminating negative thoughts can reduce your stress level and promote well-being.
  7. Walk it out. Taking a walk is a healthy activity that can also allow relief from a stressful situation. If you can, try walking outside to engage your senses in experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of nature.
  8. Get giggly. Laughter has proven to reduce the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine, while increasing levels of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins. So tune in to comedy channels on TV, or your favorite jokesters on the radio, and start laughing!

Want more help reducing stress? Consider talking to a counselor who can help you work through some of the issues that may be causing you to feel stressed.  If you are a Health Advocate member and need help finding a counselor who’s in-network with your insurance plan, local to you, and has hours that are convenient to your schedule, talk to one of ourPersonal Health Advocates—they can help you find a counselor that meets your needs. Another way to seek counseling is by calling your workplace’s EAP number.  Some Health Advocate members have access to our EAP+Work/Life service (talk to your benefits department or login to your member website if you are unsure which Health Advocate benefits you have).Your EAP may have telephonic counseling that you can access right away, free of charge. - Heath Advocate

Please note: Before engaging in any physical exercise or massage therapy, we recommend consulting your doctor to verify that these types of activities are right for you.

Have Fun, Be Amazing.