What is Stress and How to Manage It

Stress is something that everyone experiences. However, how you handle it can make a big difference in how it affects your life. The term “stress” refers to the ways in which your body reacts to what it considers a threat. When your body perceives something as a threat, your nervous system immediately produces hormones that are designed to help you escape from, or fight off, the potential threat. Stress can range from mild to debilitating. Learning how to effectively manage stress can help you use it to your advantage and prevent it from interfering with your daily life.

Immediate Physical Changes Linked to Stress

When your body initiates a “fight or flight” response due to stress, you might notice that your heart begins to beat faster, your breathing becomes rapid and your muscles feel more tense. What you might not notice is that your senses become stronger as well. This is your body’s natural way of giving you an advantage against a potential threat. In extreme cases, stress can cause your body to freeze or become immobile, resulting in shock or trauma.

Harmful Effects of Chronic Stress

Although everyone experiences stress to some degree, some people deal with chronic stress that has a negative impact on their health. When your nervous system goes into “fight or flight” mode over and over, it can affect every part of your body. Chronic stress has been linked to a higher risk of heart attacks, heart disease, sleep problems, digestive issues and high blood pressure. It can also result in serious problems with your memory and cognitive skills, affecting your job performance, interpersonal relationships and other aspects of your life.

Benefits of Stress

Milder levels of stress can be beneficial. When stress doesn’t stray outside your comfort zone, it can help you feel more alert and allow you to focus on a certain situation or task. For example, you might have an easier time staying focused on giving a presentation at your job when you’re feeling mildly stressed about it. When you’re faced with an emergency, a sudden increase in stress levels can help save your life. For example, it can urge you to swerve or hit the brakes to avoid a collision when you’re driving.

Factors That Affect Stress

Everyone experiences stress to varying degrees. However, the amount of stress that each individual can handle differs from person to person. You might feel more stressed than other people based on factors such as your level of emotional awareness and the amount of support you have from friends and family. Diet and exercise can also affect your ability to handle stress. When you eat healthier foods and get regular physical activity, being able to effectively manage stress becomes easier for many people.

Ways to Handle Stress

You can’t make stress go away completely, so it’s important to know how to handle it. If you need help managing stress on a day-to-day basis, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity can ease tension in your muscles and help your body calm down. You don’t have to follow a rigorous routine in order to enjoy the benefits of exercise for stress management. Going for daily walks or runs, doing yoga, or even dancing, are all effective ways to deal with stress and minimize its effects on your body. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which are hormones that help calm your nerves while also boosting your mood.
  • Make time to relax: No matter how busy your schedule is, make sure you set aside time to relax. During this time, focus on an activity that you find soothing, such as listening to soft music, reading a book or taking a bath. Relaxation helps your mind and body reset and gives you renewed energy.
  • Reach out to people: Being around people who make you feel good about yourself helps ease the effects of stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, you may want to call a friend or loved one or plan a get-together. Interacting with others can help your nervous system feel safe while also improving your mood.

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