Consumed by chronic stress? Seek relief
Small bursts of stress can be motivating and beneficial (for example, your in-laws are arriving in a few hours and you need to clean your whole house). But long-term stress caused by working at a breakneck pace for weeks on end or having ongoing money, job, health or relationship problems can severely strain your health and well-being.
The American Psychological Association compares your body's reaction to stress to the illuminated “check engine” light on a car's dashboard — it means something is wrong and needs maintenance and extra care. Here are physical and behavioral warning signs that stress may be wearing you down, or worse, leading you toward health ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity or diabetes.*
- Muscle tension or pain
- Dry mouth
- Chest pains, rapid heartbeat**
- Fatigue and difficulty falling asleep
- Upset stomach
- Weakened immune system
- Avoiding social situations
- Lack of concentration
- Memory problems or forgetfulness
- Short temper and angry outbursts
- Sadness or depression
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Tobacco use
- Overeating or skipping meals/change in appetite
The ability to cope with stress varies from person to person, says Dr. Asad Amir, a psychiatrist at Enloe Behavioral Health. It depends on serveral factors, including personality traits and positive defense mechanisms, such as humor, and psychosocial factors such as our childhood experiences, any traumatic experiences and the availability of support systems.
Ignoring stress or poorly managing it opens the door for negative thoughts and unhealthy habits to settle in. You may not even be aware stress is getting to you at first, but reaching for “comfort foods” repeatedly or snapping at friends and family because you're “not in the mood” are signs stress is taking over.
“To treat symptoms, people may resort to drugs or alcohol – a negative coping mechanism,” says Dr. Amir. Many positive techniques are available to help relieve stress, whether it's a short-term situational type of stress or more chronic.
To help reduce stress, try these techniques:
- Remove yourself from the stressor. If possible, take a quick walk or go someplace quiet to take deep breaths. Just a few minutes away from a stressful situation can help clear your mind.
- Reach out to others. Talk with someone who is understanding and may be able to offer solutions, such as a family member, friend or supervisor at work.
- Get some physical activity. The feel-good endorphins and movement of exercise can benefit your mind as well as your body. Try to make exercise a healthy habit. Talk to your doctor about activities that may be best for you.
- Relax and sleep. Give your mind and body a new sense of strength by allowing yourself to recharge. Meditation can help you relax and focus, and getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night can help give you more energy to tackle stressful situations. Sometimes adjustments in routine can help, says Dr. Amir. Wind down toward the latter part of the day, do not do anything too stimulating, and try a warm shower and relaxing with music.
- Smile and laugh. Even if you have to “fake it until you make it,” smiling instead of scowling can help relieve tension. Try to unwind with a funny book or movie, or spend time with a friend who makes you laugh. Get involved with things you enjoy, interact with a friend; it can take your mind off of your stress.
When the going gets tough and you feel like you can't keep going, don't be afraid to seek professional care. Consult your doctor or a mental health professional for guidance. Therapy or medication may give you a new perspective to avoid or reduce stress, help prevent chronic stress from developing into a chronic illness and promote healthier, happier relationships with others as well as yourself.
Enloe Behavioral Health is here to help people who are experiencing the debilitating effects of anxiety and other mental health issues. The doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and social workers on our team provide a thorough evaluation, develop a treatment plan and coordinate care in a supportive inpatient environment. Enloe Behavioral Health offers complimentary assessments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through an appointment or walk-in. For more information, call 530.332.5250 or 800.560.5900 or visit www.enloe.org/wellness.