Stress is the body’s natural response to any challenge or potential threat you might face. This includes everything from running away from a bear to worrying about bills. When we encounter a stressful situation, our bodies release hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare us to face the perceived threat. The response is typically the same whether the stressor is physical, emotional, or psychological.
While stress can be helpful in short-term situations, dealing with chronic stress can have noticeable impacts on the mind and body. You may notice that when you’re stressed you’re more forgetful or irritable. Long-term stress can actually change your brain, making the areas associated with “fight or flight” stronger, while making the areas associated with complex tasks weaker. Continued worry and focus on stress promotes inflammation and reduces immune function, which leaves you more susceptible to illness.
Stress is unavoidable in our daily lives, but how we react to it is key. Learning to manage stress in a healthy way supports the immune system, reduces blood pressure, and helps us better prepare for life ahead. Since you can’t eliminate all your stressors, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage the stress in your life.
Stress has a sneaky way of influencing our behavior, and it’s important to recognize that it’s not a reflection of personal weaknesses. When stress creeps in, our ability to handle life’s challenges, especially when striving for lifestyle changes, often takes a hit. Suddenly, our well-established habits and routines can feel upended. We might find ourselves battling stronger cravings, struggling to stay mindful, or losing motivation. It’s essential to remember that these shifts in behavior aren’t a result of personal shortcomings. Stressors in our environment and internal factors play a significant role. So, the next time you feel like stress is making you veer off course, consider that it might not be about some lack of willpower; it’s about how your environment and old comfortable habits are influencing your daily choices. The best thing to do is plan ahead and arm yourself with strategies for managing inevitable stress.
These days stress is everywhere. With the 24-hour news cycle and the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, many of us are dealing with stressors all day without even knowing it.
By bringing more mindfulness to our everyday lives, we are better prepared to notice our personal reaction to stress. While we can’t control the situations that may stress us out, if we can notice our reaction, we can take action. Awareness is the first step towards a life less impacted by stress!
So, what does your stress reaction look like? You may notice that when you’re stressed, you’re more forgetful or irritable. You might react more emotionally to things than you normally do. Or stress might show up as poor sleep, headaches, or stomach upset. When you recognize these stress indicators, you can take a step back and utilize some of the tools we’ll discuss below to bring yourself back to “zen.”
One of the first steps in stress management is identifying why stress or chronic stress is occurring. Stress might come from many different areas in our lives, including:
Take some time to deep dive into where your stress is coming from and what the highest cause of stress is – you might already know this or you might not realize the root cause of your stressors. Once you identify the reasons for your stress, you can find support or identify steps to help support yourself. You may not be able to remove or control the things that cause you stress, but what you can control is how you respond to and manage those stressors.
One technique that you can use to manage stress is called “reframing.” Reframing is the practice of changing the way you view situations that stress you, which changes how you experience them. If you’re feeling stressed, instead of dwelling on how it negatively affects you, try to look at the stressful event or your stress response in a positive light. This exercise helps protect you from the negative health consequences stress can have.
For example, let’s look at a common stressful event – being stuck in traffic. You can view this negatively by thinking about how you’re going to be late for something or how much you hate sitting in your car. Or you can view it positively, by thinking about how you have some time to yourself to listen to music or an audiobook.
Let’s look at another example that involves the stress response. When you are interviewing for a job you really want, you may feel a great deal of pressure. You may begin to feel the “fight or flight” stress response such as a pounding heart, feeling antsy, or sweating. You can view this negatively by thinking this response means you can’t handle the pressure. Or you can view it positively, by thinking about how that increase in heart rate and nervous energy means your body is priming itself for action and focus, and channel that energy into your interview.
In both examples, nothing has changed about the stressors, but they become positive experiences instead of negative ones by reframing.
There are lots of strategies to explore for stress management, and some might work better or be more appealing for you than others. To get the most out of any technique, the key is continued practice. No matter which strategies you want to try out, try to do it consistently (at least three times a week) for a few weeks to see if you notice a benefit. If you think you will forget or struggle to find the time, set this time up in your calendar as an appointment with yourself that you need to keep.
If you’re not sure what the best strategy is for you, reach out to your Brook coach for support! They can help you identify stress-relieving strategies that will work best for you.
Meditation is the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment, and has been found to reduce stress and support healthy immune function. If you feel like your mind wanders too much when you try on your own, check out guided meditation to help you focus on the present.
Journaling is helpful for exploring feelings and situations. Writing things down lets you identify feelings and patterns in your life. Journaling may also help you organize your thoughts more clearly rather than letting them lead you into a worry spiral. If you like the idea of journaling but not sure how to start, make a gratitude journal. Start by writing down 3 things you’re grateful for that day. Then start writing about why and anything else that comes to mind.
Self-care is the act of carving out time to protect and preserve your own mental and physical health. If you’re not really sure what counts as self-care, it can be as simple as taking a walk or reading a chapter of a book, or something more involved like painting. If you find yourself in constant caregiver mode, remember – “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” If you need to schedule some alone time to recharge, it’s important to do so. Self-care can also be saying “no.” For example, if someone asks you to volunteer to run an event but you know this is going to add too much to your stress load, it’s okay to say “no.” Check out our self-care video for more techniques to try.
as of September 2023. Kelsea is a Registered Dietitian with her Masters degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University.
Always be sure to reach out to your healthcare team when making changes to your diet or lifestyle. There are certain conditions and medications that need to be considered.