Stress – Getting Back On Track
School, College, work, relationships, your own skills and goals – everything you have going on in your life has the ability to make you feel stressed out. Deadlines, exams, peer pressure, not living up to your idea of who you are or should be, walking on eggshells around someone, a problematic significant other or the lack of one, anything can send you on a downward spiral. Even many teens suffer with being stressed out.
“Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.”― Jane Wagner
In fact, when you’re stressed out, that’s what your day probably looks like: you get up and you start “climbing stairs;” at first, it seems easy and you’re sure you can make it to the top, but as you keep climbing, it gets harder and harder until you stop caring what’s at the end, you just want rest.
Stress is defined as “”the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change” (Selye, 1936). As you can already tell from the definition, stress can be positive and negative. The positive kind is usually our fight or flight instinct. The sudden demand for change (such as running towards your child, when they tripped and fell) actually pushes your body to do something you might usually give a second thought to.
It’s not usual for us to just burst into a run without a good reason, after all. Then, there is also the kind of stress that pumps you up. When you have a job you love, more of it can seem more of a challenge and stress is nothing more than a driving force to keep you motivated. However, since those kinds of stress are not problematic and occur fairly rarely, there’s no need to look at how to relieve it. Therefore, we’ll be looking more into what makes you stressed out, what the symptoms of stress are and some ways to relieve stress.
Symptoms of Stress
“If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.”— Kris Carr
Because stress doesn’t have a concrete fool-proof definition, the stress symptoms can also vary from person to person. Some suffer more from the emotional standpoint, while others get physically ill. It is also important to make a distinction between short-term and long-term stress.
We’ve all lived through events that didn’t take that long a time (like a few weeks), but still send shivers down our spines. If you’re a workaholic, you can also have days or weeks that are especially stressful due to client demands, mergers, etc. For school and college goers – it’s midterms, finals, etc. That means that you can be stressed out for that particular period, but otherwise see no symptoms of stress. Daily life and productivity can certainly cause stress.
Let’s first look at the short-term stress symptoms. As mentioned above, symptoms can manifest as mental, physical, behavioral, and others.
Mental symptoms of short-term stress can include:
- Mood swings. You can go from a relaxed mood into an explosion of anger and crying in minutes.
- Feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem, worthlessness, depression.
- A “loud” mind, when you can’t just sit back and stay quiet without thoughts firing into your mind. Also, focusing on something is probably difficult, too.
- Avoiding friends and family.
- Worrying about things you didn’t used to worry or worrying too much for a minor nuisance.
- Bad memory, when you didn’t have that problem before.
Physical symptoms of short-term stress can include:
- Fatigue, occurring restless nights, feeling like you just want to sleep.
- Headaches, usually in your temples or “behind” your eyes.
- Stomach problems, difficulty digesting, bloated feeling.
- Sudden and rather sharp pain in other parts of your body.
- Rapid heartbeat and higher than normal blood pressure.
- Trouble falling asleep or waking up many times during the night.
- Decrease in sex drive, impotence.
- More frequent sweating.
Behavioral symptoms of short-term stress can include:
- Changes in food habits. You can feel like you’re only hungry once a day or you can start binging, especially on sweet food.
- Avoiding chores, work, procrastination in general.
- Too frequent indulgence/rewards/ways to relax, especially alcohol and tobacco
- Typical behavior associated with nervousness, like constant movement, nail chewing, looking around, teeth grinding, etc.
Physical and Mental Signs of Long-term Stress
If the stressful period has passed, but you’re still feeling the same way you did during it, or even if there wasn’t a particular trigger to cause your stress in the first place, you may be experiencing long-term stress. Usually, the symptoms of long-term stress are just stronger versions of short-term stress, but there can be extra effects that evolve and can cause you further mental issues. Some of these include:
- Seeing life as if through a fog, difficulty concentrating, remembering something you’ve been taught recently. Your sense of time might also be skewed.
- Anxiety disorders, OCD tendencies, panic attacks.
- Depression, explosive anger, constant restlessness, irrationality.
- Difficulty making logical decisions because it’s harder to think or you’re slower at it, and/or your mind wanders.
- Developing phobias and paranoia, often related to the responsibilities being neglected.
- Extreme weight gain/loss.
- Neglecting personal hygiene, responsibilities at work, school, or family.
As you can see, being under some stress is a pain, but living with it for a longer time can do some serious damage to us as people, to our careers, relationships with others, and our lives as a whole. Everyone should learn to deal with stress as soon as they start school, as it is something that they will have to cope with at least a few times in their lives.
Stress Management and How to Deal With Stress
“There’s a lot of stress out there, and to handle it, you just need to believe in yourself; always go back to the person that you know you are, and don’t let anybody tell you any different, because everyone’s special and everyone’s awesome.”— McKayla Maroney
If you have already noticed yourself being stressed out too often, it’s time to look for ways to solve that problem. As you probably already know, there are MANY ways to do that, ranging from diets to behavioral therapy. The huge selection of solutions simply means that different stress relievers work for different people. So, why not try several methods and see what works for you? When trying something new, always look inward – how does that activity make you feel. Do you feel calmer? More in control? More focused? Happier? Energetic? In other words, if it feels good – keep doing it!
Exercise and Diet
This one comes up most often as a solution when looking up ways on how to reduce stress. And that’s because it works for most people. If you’ve been meaning to go to the gym for a long time now or used to be an athlete – great! But if the thought of breaking a sweat terrifies you, don’t worry. ANY kind of activity that doesn’t have you sitting slouched over a computer screen is productive. Play with your children or pets outside, leave the car keys at home and walk to your appointments, go for a walk around the block after dinner, walk the dog, dance around while cooking, skip the elevator and use the stairs, etc. The possibilities are endless.
But, if you still find that you make excuses or “can’t find the time/energy” for exercise, do 5 push-ups before you go to bed every night and right after you get up in the morning. Once you feel like it’s a piece of cake, up the ante – go for 10, 20, or more. As long as you’re moving, your brain won’t have time to come up with excuses.
Another aspect is a healthy diet and an overall lifestyle. How can you expect to do even one push-up if you just stuffed your face with snacks? Avoid anything unhealthy, like too much snacky, starchy, sweet foods, tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
While you’re trying to get your body back into shape, make some time for your mind as well. Just as the body needs exercise, the mind needs relaxation, so throw in 20min or so every day for your mind to just wander where it needs to.
If you’ve been stressed out for a long time, chances are, you’ve probably neglected your friends and family. Always being busy with work or worrying about things doesn’t leave much time to take care of your loved ones and a tense person prone to extreme moods rarely has many friends who stick around. This is why cultivating relationships is a good stress relief option. Here are some ways to make new connections, before we look at how to bring back the ones you’ve lost:
- Talk to someone you don’t know at work or school, make a friend
- Make small talk with random strangers, like the cashier at your store or a neighbor, as you pass by
- Pay for the coffee of the person ahead of you
- Go online and look up groups with people with similar hobbies/interests as you. Maybe have a group meeting doing the thing you enjoy
- Look up old friends, reconnect
- Take a new class or ask for advice from people at the gym
- If you belong to a religious community, participate more, maybe even volunteer to help the needy
Reconnecting with someone you’ve neglected recently can be as easy as calling them up and setting up a dinner date to actually working to get them back, but don’t be saddened if the relationship is over. Not every friend will be there through the worst of times and that’s OK. Surround yourself with people who love you and let them help you. Notify them that you might be sensitive or moody and make an effort to allow them into your life. After a while, you’ll have found out ways of how to relieve stress, and they will still be around. There is nothing like people you love to get you through the bad episodes in your life.
Manage your stressor
When it comes to the actual object, person, event, etc. that makes you anxious, there are several things you can do. You can go around it, making an effort to avoid it, confront it by dealing with the reason for why you feel stressed out in the first place, change your attitude about it, if it’s not a big deal, and accept things as they are. All methods are valid, as long as they fit the situation and are actually helpful to you. So, let’s take a look at each one in depth.
- You are not responsible for everything – No one is. If your work stresses you out, maybe you’re taking too much responsibility or even work that isn’t yours to begin with. Stick to your own guns. If it’s an issue at home, take it up with your partner. There’s no reason why you have to make time for doing the dishes and taking the kids to school while your partner watches TV.
- Get back in control. Simply avoid the things that make you irritated. If you see someone’s face and you feel your blood boil, it’s time to cut the ties. If it’s an activity, change it or something about it. Avoid what you can.
- Don’t hold back your feelings. Spitting out that you’re “fine” every time someone asks if you’re OK, when you’re not, won’t do you any favors. The same is the other way around. If you don’t let people know how you feel about something, they might bother you again. And if you keep quiet about it, it’ll happen again. It’s much easier to be respectful and express your feelings, rather than bottle everything up and explode (or implode).
- Just because you’re not happy with how someone is behaving, it doesn’t mean they’re happy with you. If your spouse keeps nagging you to do your chores, and it annoys you to no end, maybe you’re avoiding your responsibilities? If a friend keeps inviting you to a fishing trip because you tried to make conversation about fishing out of politeness, but are not actually into it, whose fault is it? Be prepared to make compromises.
They say your outlook on life is everything, and that a problem isn’t a problem if you look at from a different angle. In some cases, this could be true. If it works for some people, why not give it a go?
- Look at the problem from a different angle. Stuck in traffic while late for work? Can you make traffic go faster? No, so why worry about it? You’ll be late either way, why lose your nerve over it?
- Distance yourself. Ask yourself if worrying about the problem or getting angry over it helps it in any way. While you’re at it, think about the significance of it. Is it something that will decide how the next decade in your life is going to look like? If it’s your wedding – of course! But maybe not a routine evaluation report.
- Lower your expectations. Not everything has to be perfect all the time, and people are certainly not perfect. So, don’t demand yourself to be 100% at everything you do. Sometimes, simply something being done is good enough.
- Some things just can’t be controlled. You can’t control a loved one’s death and you can’t fully control your feelings about it either, so in cases when you’re powerless, allow yourself to be just that.
- Accept your limitations. Forgive and forget. We can’t change the past and it’ll go away on its own soon enough, so there’s no point in going over embarrassing events over and over in your mind. Maybe even laugh at it? Maybe it was funny, albeit embarrassing. Simply letting go can be a major way to relieve stress.
It’s impossible for someone to be a healthy human being without having been stressed out at least once. It’s part of who we are and a powerful driving force for when we need it.
However, it’s a problem if it goes on too long, which is why one has to learn how to reduce stress as much as possible. It does not take much effort to improve your life for the better and eliminate stress for good. Why not start today?