By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
This post is honor of Stress Awareness Month.
Your cell phone is ringing, your work email inbox is overflowing, and there’s a pile of unpaid bills on your desk. There’s nothing in the refrigerator for dinner but wilted lettuce, a package of hot dogs, and an old hunk of cheddar cheese. Someone needs to walk the dog NOW, and your kid just told you her science fair project is due tomorrow! By the way, did you know it’s Stress Awareness Month? Oh–you’re already feeling pretty aware of your stress already??
The Physical and Psychological Effects of Stress
Life’s many everyday demands, from minor to major, often pile up and make us feel overwhelmed. While stress may be common, its effects can be serious. For some, chronic stress induces short-term physical symptoms like stomach pain and headaches. For others, it impairs the immune system, making them more likely to catch colds. In the long run, frequent stress can also increase one’s risk of developing high blood pressure, heart problems, and other health issues.
Other people respond to stress by becoming depressed, sad, anxious, or irritable. And some “cope” with stress with negative behaviors like drinking or eating too much, smoking, or abusing drugs.
Yet stress is inevitable for all of us, at least some of the time. So how can we better manage its effects on our lives?
Six Research-Backed Ways to Cope
First of all, time and again, daily exercise has been shown to help people cope with stress. You don’t have to train for a marathon—a gentle half-hour walk, maybe with a friend, is a great stress-reliever.
Social support matters a lot as well. Even when your calendar looks packed, make time to socialize and relax with friends and family. Seek out people who you can talk to and who make you laugh and feel better.
Sometimes we don’t take time to eat well when we feel rushed or stressed out, but this can just make things worse. Eating a well-balanced diet helps us feel better and fight off illness. The simple guidelines at MyPlate can get you back on track.
Making sure that you get enough sleep every night (6-8 hours) may seem hard when stress is building, but it’s crucial, too. Getting that daily exercise can help sleep arrive more easily when we’re feeling frazzled.
Have you considered learning some simple relaxation techniques to help you cope with a particularly tough day? A short recorded relaxation exercise, such as these offered by the University of Florida (others are easily located on YouTube, on CDs, or even through apps on your smartphone) may be just the ticket. You can try one that uses visualization or one where you concentrate on physically relaxing your body.
Finally, consider working on changing your thinking patterns. If you ask too much of yourself, constantly give yourself a hard time for making mistakes, or see everyday incidents as major disasters, your stress level is bound to go up. Changing the “voice in your head” to a more positive one and learning how to “reframe” situations can help you handle stressful moments.
Stress is a part of all of our lives, and some days are bound to be difficult. Fortunately, with a little practice, we can make it a little easier to handle when it comes along.
(Photo credit: Day Sixty – Stress Management for Professionals (60/365) by The Crystal Fairy. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)
Relaxation Exercises–Videos of quick relaxation exercises from UF, and links to others as well
Relaxation Exercises–More free online relaxation videos; these are from the University of Wisconson
Relaxation Techniques–More info on these techniques from the Mayo Clinic
Cognitive Reframing and Stress Management–from About.com
Stress and Insomnia–from the National Sleep Foundation
Stress Management: Your Lifelines–from UF-IFAS EDIS
Stress Management: Ways to Cope–from UF-IFAS EDIS
Stress Management: Understanding Stress–from UF-IFAS EDIS
NIH. (n.d.) Q&A on Stress for Adults: How it affects your health and what you can do about it. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
NIH. (2007). Stress affects both body and mind. Retrieved from http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2007/January/docs/01features_01.htm
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.) Relaxation techniques: Try these steps to reduce stress. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368.
Medline Plus. (2014). Learn to manage stress. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001942.htm
Smith, S., & Pergola, J. (2015). Stress management: Ways to cope. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy517