Stress affects millions of people nationwide. Whether it’s because of responsibilities at home, issues at work, or personal problems, everyone feels stressed from time to time. According to the American Psychological Association, both men and women experience stress, and younger adults may feel it more often. Although stress has direct and indirect links to many serious health issues, it is possible to manage it and get some relief before bigger problems occur.
Here’s what you need to know about how stress can impact your health, signs to watch for that indicate you have too much of it in your life, and five ways to reduce it so you can live healthier.
Impact on Health
While short-term stresses that cause anxiety, like if you’re getting ready to do a big presentation at work are generally harmless, chronic stress is a real health concern. If your stress levels make it difficult to live a normal life over an extended period to time, you’ll cause needless wear and tear on your body.
Increased stress levels are closely correlated with anxiety problems and depression, high blood pressure, obesity, and chronic illnesses. In addition, someone who is stressed all the time may have more difficulty recovering from disease or sickness.
In one study, researchers found that patients who have “Type-D” personalities, or who are under chronic stress, face higher risks of bad outcomes when recovering from a cardiac episode.
Signs of Stress
There are both emotional and physical symptoms that pop up if you’re stressed.
Mental and emotional symptoms might include:
- Constantly worrying
- Becoming emotional, frustrated, or moody quickly
- Feeling overwhelmed or unable to focus
- Difficulty relaxing, racing thoughts
- Having low self-esteem, feeling bad about yourself, worthless, or depressed
- Being pessimistic
- Avoiding social interactions with others
Stress might manifest physically through:
- Low energy
- Chronic headaches
- Digestion issues including an upset stomach, constipation, or nausea
- Procrastination or avoiding responsibilities
- Irregular heart beat and chest pain
- Frequently getting sick with colds or infections
- Decreased sex drive
- Excess sweating
- Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw
If you’re experiencing one or more of these daily, it might be time to look at some techniques to reduce your anxiety levels to prevent burnout.
5 Ways to Cope with Stress
While it might not be possible to change your lifestyle to eliminate the source of your stress (which is the best solution), you can incorporate daily habits into your routine to help you cope with high stress levels. Here are five of our favorites.
1. Use Relaxation Techniques
There are lots of different techniques that will help to reduce your cortisol levels, and that will have a positive impact on feelings of stress. For example, progressive relaxation is a top-down technique where you begin at your head and work your way down to your toes tensing and relaxing every muscle while breathing deeply.
Try it- on your next inhale scrunch up your face and tighten every muscle, then when you exhale relax that area. Next, move to your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and on down your body. Within 5 minutes you’ll be completely relaxed, and ready to take on a new challenge.
2. Listen to music
Studies show that jamming out to good tunes can lower the stress response in your body. If you’re having a particularly bad day or find yourself in a situation that you feel like you can’t handle, step away and listen to a favorite song. Bonus points if you do some deep breathing while singing along.
After a long, hard day, getting in some exercise might sound like the last thing you want to do. But, if you can get yourself off the couch and go for a walk, lift some weights, do yoga, or even play in the park with your kids, you’ll get a big boost of stress reduction.
Stress affects the brain in a variety of ways, but when you exercise your body produces endorphins that make you feel energized and healthy. Scientists agree that regular exercises will decrease overall tension, elevate and stabilize your mood, help you sleep better, and improve your self-esteem. As little as five minutes of getting your heart rate up will help.
4. Use Aromatherapy
There are dozens of studies that link stress reduction with different scents. Natural aromas like lavender, pine, jasmine, and citrus relax or energize your mind and help you do everything from sleep better to unwind after a long day. Try lighting a candle in your favorite flavor, or invest in high-quality essential oils and a diffuser.
5. Hug Someone
Whether your wrap your arms around a stranger or a loved one, a 20-second hug can decrease your blood pressure and heart rate thereby combating some of the harmful daily effects of stress. The embrace will signal your body to produce dopamine and serotonin, both powerful feel-good chemicals that will leave you feeling happy and content. Bonus, your hug recipient will get the same boost.