Why Should I be Worried About Stress?
Every person has experienced stress at one point in their life, whether the stress is a result of a minor complication, or due to a major event that disrupts everyday life. Stress in moderation does not pose a health risk, but when stress is prolonged, it has serious health complications, this type of stress is known as chronic stress (Cherry, 2021). Chronic stress can be recognized through warning signs, such as:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Trouble sleeping
Experiencing these feelings can be a daily occurrence, but when they become chronic is when they pose a threat to health safety. Leaving stress untreated can result in serious health and mental health complications, such as heart disease, decreased immunity, anxiety, depression, memory impairment, and even high blood pressure.
What Causes Chronic Stress to Pose a Health Risk?
Being stressed releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which are responsible to condition the body to have a fight-or-flight response. These hormones cause the cardiovascular system to shift into response gear; the heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and blood vessels dilate. This reaction is a positive one when there is an imminent survival threat, but when the body is in a constant state of increased alertness, the cardiovascular system begins to fail over time. Prolonged stress can increase the risks of stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure (Cherry, 2021).
The way some people physiologically respond to stress can become chronic based on specific factors, such as genetics and life experiences. Genetics may prime the body to be overreactive to mild experiences. Negative life experiences can lead individuals to become more easily affected by stress. Genetics coupled with negative life experiences can cause a small stressful event to develop to chronic stress (Mayo Clinic, 2021).
How Can I Reduce My Stress?
After establishing that stress poses a threat to our overall health, how can we reduce our chronic stress? There are many ways to reduce feelings of stress, such as:
- Regular Exercise
- Relaxation Techniques
One of the ways to reduce stress is to exercise regularly. Exercise is not only a physically healthy activity; it is also a healthy outlet for stress. Exercise releases endorphins, which are hormones that naturally promote mood to help maintain a positive attitude.
If exercise is not effective, another method to relieve stress is relaxation techniques. These techniques help a stressed body calm down through a physiological change to stop the fight-or-flight response. Doing relaxation techniques can lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and further secretion of stress hormones (Harvard Health Publishing, 2015).
Different relaxation techniques include deep breathing and finding activities to engage your senses. When in a stressful situation, it may be helpful to practice a deep breathing exercise, such as breathing in through the nose for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 4 seconds, and breathing out through the mouth for 4 seconds.
Another technique would be to engage your senses in an attempt to ground yourself during a stress moment. You can do this by using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. This involves noticing five things in your environment you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Doing these relaxation techniques can be a quick way to lower stress reactions to protect your health, both physically and mentally.
If you find neither exercise nor relaxation techniques to be helpful, another way to relieve stress is through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of therapy that involves changing unhealthy thinking patterns to change your overall emotions. The special trained CBT therapist helps clients identify problematic thinking patterns and teaches the client to automatically replace these problematic patterns with healthy thought patterns, which has an overall positive effect on mood and physical health.
Be Educated, Be Healthy
Because of the positive health benefits to reducing stress, and the negative health consequences of prolonged exposure to severe stress, every individual should know the risks that prolonged stress poses and should be educated to combat these overwhelming feelings when faced with them.
Cherry, K. (2021, January 18). How Does Prolonged Stress Impact Your Health? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/prolonged-stress-symptoms-causes-impact-and-coping-5092113
Harvard Health Publishing. (2015, January 8). Best ways to manage stress – Harvard Health. Harvard Health; Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/best-ways-to-manage-stress
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021). Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk. Mayo Clinic; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
Stress: 10 Ways To Relieve Stress. (2022, May 26). Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-relieve-stress/