Have you ever felt so stressed about something that it was all you could think about? Stress gives us tunnel vision. When we’re stressed, it’s hard to focus on anything but what’s causing our stress. Bills, trouble with loved ones, difficulties at work all can quickly overwhelm us and make our hard lives even harder. The effects of stress can wear down our bodies and our spirits to nothing if we don’t find helpful ways to cope.

If it sounds like we’re overstating how damaging chronic stress can be, think again. Chronic stress can lead to a number of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes and more. Luckily, stress can be reduced and managed once we learn how to recognize it and find its cause.

What is Stress?

Put simply, stress is the way your body reacts to certain, usually high-pressure situations. When we feel like we’re in some kind of danger, our brains release a flood of hormones to help us cope. Adrenaline and cortisol, in particular, boost our heart rate and give us a jolt of energy, putting our bodies in fight-or-flight mode, to help us get through whatever problem we’re having.

Normally, once the stressful period is over, our bodies clear out those stress hormones and we return to our normal, calm selves. However, some stress can last for days, months, or even years, and it’s this long-term stress that hits our bodies the hardest. We simply weren’t built to handle stress for long periods of time. But for people living in poverty, people trapped in abusive relationships, or people with other intense life difficulties, perpetual stress–and all the problems that come with it–are the norm.

The Effects of Stress

So, what happens when we’re feeling stressed? Stress can present itself in a number of ways. Some physical signs of stress include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite

Stress can also affect our mood and behavior in a number of ways:

  • Anxiety
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

Because we get stuck reliving what’s causing us stress over and over, our mental fitness diminishes. It becomes harder to make decisions and makes us less productive. Feeling sick and anxious all the time makes it hard to relax and enjoy things that normally make you happy, which can make you even more stressed!

How to Manage Stress

Unfortunately, eliminating stress altogether is impossible. Plus, as we mentioned earlier, not all stress is bad for you. Good things in our lives–falling in love, going on vacation, starting new jobs–all create stress in our lives, but you certainly wouldn’t want to give up love or vacations!

That said, looking for ways to reduce stress can be a powerful first step in dealing with stress in a healthier way. Some suggestions might include:

  • Delegating work tasks to other people
  • Setting and enforcing personal boundaries
  • Avoiding procrastination

Once you’ve cut back on some of the more stressful parts of your life, look for stress-busting techniques that can help you manage your stress during those times when stress is inevitable. Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Meditate or practice deep breathing
  • Exercise regularly
  • Spend time with loved ones or pets
  • Journal
  • Get enough sleep

What do you do to handle stress? Tell us about it on Facebook or Instagram!

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