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What is Stress and How to Manage It: 5 Tips to Handle Tough Times

June 01, 2020 5 min read

What is Stress and How to Manage It: 5 Tips to Handle Tough Times

Stress seems to raise its ugly head at the most inopportune times. From family members who don’t seem to understand boundaries to work and school responsibilities, everyone has experienced stress at some point. So what is stress? Stress can be defined in many ways but the most common definition is, “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension” (1).

Stress itself isn’t the primary cause of concern in most situations, but rather how you handle it when inconveniences arise. The goal should be to manage stress healthily and understand that not all stress is bad. In dangerous situations, stress signals the body to start its fight-or-flight response(2). This response kicks in as an instinct that tells us to either stay and face a threat or flee a situation. During these times, stress can trigger a variety of physiological responses such as a quickened pulse, fast breath and tense muscles. In non-threatening scenarios, stress can serve as motivation, such as during a job interview for a new position or before a big date.

Some people handle stress more effectively and are able to recover from stressful events more quickly than others, but all levels of negative stress should be evaluated. If you’ve been experiencing stress, these tips will help you manage and overcome it.

Recognize Your Stressors

Being aware of what’s causing stress in your life is the first step to combating it, but the majority of people often do not realize the level of stress they are under until it has begun to consume them. It is important to recognize stress before it spirals out of control because it can negatively affect your mental, physical and emotional health.

Check Your Health

Stress over time can significantly harm your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic stress can wear down the body's natural defenses, leading to negative physical symptoms, including dizziness, general aches, headaches, indigestion and changes in appetite (3). If left unmanaged, stress can cause serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Stress can be alleviated several ways; most of them are easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Check with your doctor before making changes to your diet or exercise routine, but the following tips should serve as a useful starting point:

  • Eating a healthy diet can help your body better cope with stress. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day so begin your day with whole-grains, fruits, and proteins to keep your energy up and your mind clear during the day.
  • Take supplements to prevent stress. Organic Ashwagandha and KSM-66 Ashwagandha are all-natural, extra-strength supplements to help you relax, focus and increase your energy and stamina. Studiesshow that Ashwagandha has anti-anxiety and stress-reduction properties and can reduce symptoms of stress by as much as 69% (4) (5).
  • Limit caffeine and sugar to help your body avoid sugar crashes, which can affect your mood and energy levels. To prevent sugar “highs” that can disrupt your sleeping patterns and cause stress, watch your intake of soft drinks, junk food and coffee. Sugar highs and spikes in blood sugar, even minor ones, can be particularly troubling since they mimic symptoms of a panic attack (6).

        Find A Hobby

        Having a hobby that can take your mind off of stressful times can significantly improve the quality of your life. Inactive hobbies like watching movies and scrolling through social media on your phone may seem relaxing, but ultimately may increase your stress long-term.

        Adopting the following hobbies is an excellent way to direct your energy and alleviate stress in a beneficial way:

        • Journaling can help you pinpoint your regular life stressors and find ways to deal with them. To get started, try writing down what you’re feeling and what caused it when you feel stressed and soon you’ll begin noticing patterns and themes (7).
        • Meditating can be done anywhere and is a soothing option for relieving stress. If you’re a beginner meditator, try using mobile apps like Headspace and Abide, which offer free guided meditation. Anyone can practice meditation and spending even just a few minutes meditating can restore your calm and inner zen (8).
        • Gardening can reduce stress through exposure to nature. Gardening outdoors means more exposure to sunlight, which has been shown to increase serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is essential for keeping the brain balanced and feeling good (9).
        • Yoga is a great way to lower stress levels even if you’re not flexible. According to a study from the International Journal of Yoga, practicing yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns and enhance overall well-being and quality of life (10).
        • Cooking can be a productive way to get rid of stress. According to a study on food quality and preference, cooking, although it can be hard work, has been known to create strong, positive feelings when cooking hot meals at home (11).

            Dive Into Fitness

            If you live a sedentary lifestyle and don’t work out regularly, forcing yourself to fit in daily exercise as a hobby may be the last thing you want to do on a stressful day. However, you’ll find that once you start moving, your body will respond positively. Exercise helps release endorphins in your brain that can make you feel good and improve your stress levels (12).

            You don’t have to be a stellar athlete or do 500 squats a day to reap the benefits of exercise. Simply walking your dog, breaking a sweat while following a dance routine video on Youtube or doing sit-ups during the commercials of your favorite show can help improve your mood (13).

            Seek Help

            There is nothing wrong with reaching out to a health care professional if you feel overwhelmed by stress. Here are a few options for effectively seeking help:

            • Talk to your health care provider or a health professional if you’re having suicidal thoughts or feel like you need support battling anxiety. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and is a 24/7 resource.
            • If you use your phone frequently, consider downloading mental health and therapy apps for contact-free treatment. Free apps such as Optimism, PTSD Coach, and Headspace are great apps to incorporate into your daily routine for stress-relief.

                In Summary

                If you’ve been asking what stress is, understand it’s inevitable. Being overwhelmed with stress can make you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it. Family issues, work complications, and relationship snags that cause stress will never stop occurring, but it’s important to know that you are in control of your life (14). Using these tips to help effectively manage your stress will help you break free from the confining restraints of stress and move toward a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.

                Laura Tolliver - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice