Stress is the body's reaction to a challenge, which could mean anything from physical danger to being asked on a date to studying for a big exam. Both good and bad things can create stress. The body reacts to stress by activating the nervous system and releasing specific hormones. This prepares a person to react quickly and perform well under pressure. However, if we overreact to stress or it goes on for too long, stress can make us mentally and physically exhausted.
If we have difficulty handling stress, it can have significant short- and long-term consequences on physical and emotional health, including mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders. Some people turn to negative coping mechanisms if they don't have the skills and support to deal with stress in healthy ways.
If you're stressed, you may know it. Some signs of stress overload include:
- headaches, stomachaches, muscle pains, tiredness
- shutting down and withdrawing from activities and people
- increased anger or irritability
- crying more often or getting teary-eyed
- feelings of hopelessness
- chronic anxiety or nervousness
- changes in sleeping and eating habits
- difficulty concentrating
There will always be stress in life. The key is finding positive ways to manage stress. Some strategies include:
- Talk about problems with others.
- Take deep breaths, accompanied by thinking or saying aloud, “I can handle this.”
- Perform progressive muscle relaxation, which involves repeatedly tensing and relaxing large muscles of the body.
- Set small goals and break tasks into smaller, manageable chunks.
- Exercise and eat regular meals.
- Get proper sleep.
- Break the habit of relying on caffeine or energy drinks to get through the day.
- Focus on what you can control (your reactions, your actions) and let go of what you cannot (other people’s opinions and expectations).
- Visualize and practice feared situations.
- Work through worst-case scenarios until they seem amusing or absurd.
- Lower unrealistic expectations.
- Schedule breaks and enjoyable activities.
- Accept yourself as you are; identify your unique strengths and build on them.
- Give up on the idea of perfection, both in yourself and in others.