Humans are hard-wired to react to stress in ways originally meant to protect us against threats like predators or other dangerous situations. Thankfully, these days most of us don’t have to worry about dangerous animals. However, the world is still full of stressful situations that impact our bodies and mental health every day. That’s why it’s more important than ever to understand stress and discover your own healthy ways of dealing with it.
The first step to managing stress is understanding it
When you face something that feels stressful your brain signals your body to release hormones that increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Stress can also change your body’s immune response and suppress your digestive system, reproductive system, and growth processes. It’s a complex reaction that can change how your brain controls your moods, motivations and fears.
Your stress reaction is unique to you
Everyone deals with stress differently. You probably have some friends who always seem relaxed about everything and others who get worked up more easily. It’s all perfectly natural, because stress is largely controlled by our own unique genetics and life experiences.
Why healthy stress management is so important
Your body’s natural response to the end of a stressful situation is to stop sending hormones so levels return to normal. However, if you’re constantly feeling stressed these hormones remain elevated, which can affect your health in negative ways, including:
- Digestive problems
- Muscle tension and pain
- Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Learning to manage stress in healthy ways
Managing stress with temporary escapes like alcohol, drugs or food can be tempting. And although you shouldn’t feel bad about occasionally stress-eating a brownie, it’s important to learn a few healthy ways of dealing with stress that work for you.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and plenty of sleep
- Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, massage or meditation
- Keep a journal and write about your thoughts or what you’re grateful for in your life
- Take time for hobbies, such as reading, listening to music, or watching your favorite show or movie
- Foster healthy friendships and talking with friends and family
- Find ways to include humor and laughter in your life, such as watching funny movies or looking at joke websites
- Volunteer in your community
- Organize and prioritize what you need to accomplish at home and remove tasks that aren’t necessary
- Seek professional counseling, which can help you develop specific coping strategies to manage stress
Learning to identify your stressors and how you best deal with them takes practice. You won’t get it perfect every time, and that’s alright. The important thing is to make healthy progress. Once you start enjoying benefits like reduced anxiety, improved health and more fulfilling relationships you’ll also get better at managing stress in ways that work for you.