By Kelsey Crowe, LCSW, LCAS, CCS
We all have it. Stress is a pervasive part of all adult life. Whether it originates from work, family life, children, or other issues, we will experience stress at various points in our lives. We don’t always have control over everything in our life, but we do have control over how we respond to it. Staying in a constant state of anxiety or anguish can wreak havoc on our brains and physical health. A new body of research links stress to cancer, autoimmune diseases, and early death. Stress has a positive correlation with inflammation in our bodies, how often we get sick, and even the amount of physical pain that a person feels. Learn what is stressing you out and how to deal with it—your life could depend on it.
Learning to deal with stress starts with identifying where your stress is coming from. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it may appear. We can often times identify “major” stressors in our lives as they are sometimes more obvious. A big move, a death in the family, divorce, a new job: all of these are commonly accepted as stressful life events. What we often overlook are the smaller things that can add up in a big way. An important deadline, worry for friends or family, holidays, and problems with kids can add up. Determine your major stressors and then make a plan.
There are a variety of ways to manage stress when it appears in your life. Here are a few options to consider.
Exercise- Get moving! Exercise is a proven way to increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. Not only can exercise help with stress, it also improves your ability to get a good night sleep, helps with weight control, and can be a great way to connect with others. So head to the gym and move— working out can reduce stress and help you calm down.
Therapy- Often times, people believe they need to have a major problem or crisis before seeking therapy. This is a common misconception that often can prevent people from seeking help. A therapist is a great way to work through stress, tough emotions, and help you to meet goals that you set. In addition to stress, a therapist can help you with any underlying anxiety, depression, or substance use that you may be struggling with as well. Interview several different practitioners and see who you connect with the best.
Relaxation- There are so many ways to relax! Choose the ones that are right for you. It could be as simple as laying in a hammock, getting a massage, or going to a yoga class. Deep breathing, guided meditation, aromatherapy, and acupuncture are other great ways to reduce stress and get in touch with your body. Make sure you choose an activity that isn’t a burden. Thinking of activities you do where you don’t pay attention to the time can be helpful.
Connect- Spend time with people in your life that you enjoy being around and are supportive. There is not much better than grabbing a cup of coffee or going to a movie with a friend. Stress tends to isolate us. An important research study completed by UCLA showed that women who have a circle of friends are able to cope with stress in a more healthy way. They found that a group of friends provides a different response in the body than the traditional “fight-or-flight response” to stress. The research authors called this response “tend-and-befriend” and showed that when women spend time with other women they produce more oxytocin. Oxytocin is the same chemical in your body that is produced when you experience love or connection. This produces a calming effect, which can help mitigate stress!
These are just a few things you can do to help manage your stress when it inevitably arises in your life. Identify where your stressors are coming from, and come up with a good plan for self-care. Knowing your plan in advance can help you manage it before it escalates to the point of impacting your health, relationships, and overall wellness.