When experiencing stress, our bodies respond by entering the fight or flight phase in which the pulse quickens, muscles tense, and the brain uses more oxygen in order to provide a quick burst of activity if needed. This is extremely useful in a life or death situation that requires quick action for survival and it can be beneficial in other situations like meeting a deadline or taking a test.
Yet we are not built to maintain this prolonged state of hypervigilance and hyperarousal. Our bodies need a break from the stress response and to be able to return to a normal state of functioning. When stress is experienced repeatedly over time, the prolonged impact will take a toll on our mental and physical health. As we reach the one year mark of the pandemic, many Americans are reporting their highest levels of stress since the pandemic began. This chronic stress can increase depression and anxiety and exacerbate symptoms of an existing mental health condition.
Certainly major life changes can cause stress. But the reasons for stress are frequently more subtle. Situations as simple and commonplace as maintaining daily work and caregiving demands can be a major source of stress. Situations affect people differently. Some individuals are affected by solitude while others are affected by noisy overstimulating environments.
Overcoming Stressful Situations
Learn the situations that make you vulnerable to stress and you will be better prepared to handle them. Maintaining healthy daily habits is essential in reducing your susceptibility to stress. When practiced regularly, these habits help to boost the immune system, protect physical and mental health, and increase our ability to handle stressors. These strategies include getting enough sleep, being physically active, eating nutritious food, socialization and connection, and spending time in nature. In addition to these habits, other steps that you can take to help manage long term stress include decreasing the instances of stressful situations when possible, taking breaks, and setting boundaries.
It is important to be proactive in taking steps to minimize the stressful situations and to increase activities that minimize stress and promote health. If you can, say no to obligations that are not helpful, that do not fit into your schedule, or that you simply do not want to attend. It may be uncomfortable but it can help to simplify your schedule and open up time for other activities that are beneficial to your mental health.
Strategies to Lessen Unavoidable Stress
For many stressful situations, however, it is not an option to avoid them entirely. In these circumstances, there are strategies that can help to lessen unavoidable stress. Taking regular breaks, during the work day for example, can provide the mind and body with time to relax and reset. Not all breaks are created equal however. If you spend this time mindlessly scrolling through social media, zoning out to television, or trying to fit in other items on your to do list, then the break may not fulfill its purpose of boosting your mood. It can be more productive to spend time on a short activity that is relaxing, restful, or energizing like stretching, going for a walk, chatting with a friend, or practicing mindfulness. The goal is to find something that engages you and will allow you to genuinely pause from the stressful task.
Setting boundaries can also help to reduce stress and establish more time for healthier and more fulfilling activities. Many of us are working long hours these days, either with paid work or caregiving. Technology has provided the opportunity to work from anywhere at any time of day through our phones, 24/7 instant access to work email and the news media, and a constant barrage of personal and work notifications. It is important to give yourself a break from work, distractions, and other things that demand your attention.
For work, having a clear distinction between work and personal time allows us to have the downtime we need to completely relax or to be fully engaged in more pleasurable pursuits. Designate a set quit time each day, not just from work but even for checking work emails. Social media, news, and other forms of screen time can be highly addictive and frequently leave you feeling worse than before. It can be easy to spend more time than intended on these activities without even realizing it. By turning off notifications and unplugging, you can give yourself precious time to participate in activities that are healthy, restful, or fun.
Valeo Behavioral Health Care
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Topeka, KS 66606
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Healing after Loss to Suicide Group (HeALS)
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