How Stress Impacts our Wellbeing and What You Can Do To Manage It
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life – everyone experiences it from time to time. When it comes to immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial for our health; it can help us cope and respond to the situation in question better. But, if our stress response doesn’t stop and stay elevated for longer than needed, it can take a toll on our health. Chronic stress can affect our overall wellbeing, something we want to avoid. Symptoms of chronic stress can be anxiety, headaches, insomnia, digestion problem and weaker immune system.
By getting a clearer understanding of how the stress reaction starts in the body, we can become more aware of ourselves and manage the situations better.
Positive vs. Negative Stress
There are two types of stress: positive and negative. Positive stress can be experienced when someone is focused on a specific task, feeling excited and motivated. This is usually a short-term feeling and often a good thing – it gives us that extra drive. Negative stress can cause anxiety, discomfort and health implications that can be short or long-term.
The problem is that the body doesn’t distinguish between whether stress is positive or negative – the physiological process in our body is the same. When triggers arise, the body goes into “fight or flight” mode, which mobilises us to take action and avoid danger. These reactions can ask a lot of metabolic energy from the body. Our body’s stress response is perfectly healthy when there’s a real emergency, but if our body is continually getting stress signals, we’ll burn out over time.
The three-stage process GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome), founded by Hans Selye, describes the physiological changes the body goes through when under stress.
The Alarm Stage
When our body goes into panic mode, our sympathetic nervous system is activated to protect us from danger. This natural reaction prepares us to flee or defend ourselves, equipping us with emergency fuel and energy. As stress levels rise, many physiological changes occur in the body.
The Resistance Stage
After the initial stress response, our body attempts to return to its stable state. If, although our stress reactions are too strong or trigged too often, our body will remain on high alert. If we don’t resolve the stress and our body remains on high alert, it eventually adapts and learns how to live with a higher stress level. This extended release of stress hormones affects our body, lowering our immunity defences and making us more susceptible to illness.
The Exhaustion Stage
When our bodies continuously function in a wired state (chronic stress) and are never given the opportunity to recharge, our emergency resources get depleted, and our bodies start to shut down. Struggling with stress for long periods can drain our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Burnout, depression, and anxiety are common signs of the exhaustion stage.
In today’s fast-paced society, it can be hard to slow down. We are running around in constant ‘panic mode’ from everyday worries caused by work, family, relationships, and just sometimes, life in general. It is easy to forget how far we have come and what we have; instead, we obsess over the things we don’t have or can’t control and compare ourselves to others. Thanks to the rise of social media, the latter is an easy trap to fall into. Chronic stress disrupts the natural balance for optimal wellbeing, and finding ways to reduce stress is vital.
One important thing to remember is that we are all unique beings, and we don’t all function and work in the same way. Something that causes undue stress for one might not cause the same issues for another, and that is why it’s important to find your own way of coping with stress.
How To Manage Stress
Journaling is a great way to be more mindful of our thoughts and create more clarity. It can help us identify the regular stressors in our life and the way we react to them. When feeling stressed, keep track of it in your journal, and this will help you see patterns. Write down:
- What caused your stressful situation
- How you felt
- How you acted and what you did afterwards to make yourself feel better
Take a moment to reflect over the things you have written down. Can you see a pattern? How could you avoid/ prevent these things from happening again?
Other things that are good to keep in mind when trying to avoid and prevent stressful situations:
This might feel frustrating, but accepting that there are events that we cannot control makes a big difference to our stress reactions. Step back and try to analyse the stressful situation calmly. Ask yourself - Will it affect your life in the long term? Is it worth getting upset over? Take a moment to shift your thoughts to all the things you appreciate in life, including your own achievements. This simple exercise can help you keep things in perspective.
Making ourselves available 24/7 exposes us to a constant barrage of stressors that prevent us from refocusing and recharging. Detoxing digitally is something you can practice on a regular basis and will massively contribute to feeling calmer and happier.
Learn how to say “no”
Taking on more than you can handle is a granted recipe for stress. Learn to know your limits and stick with them. This goes with relationships too, if someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time spent with them. It is, of course, easier said than done, but it will make a difference.
Other things that are good to do and can help:
- Yoga, Meditation, and breathing exercises
- Decreasing your alcohol, caffeine, and sugar intake
- Avoiding high intense training if feeling too wired
- A healthy and nourishing diet
By becoming more aware of ourselves and how our bodies work, we can acknowledge the stress reactions in an early state and prevent it from becoming chronic. This will help us to create a more balanced, everyday life.