Stress: We all experience it, and everyone needs to learn how to cope with the various stressful events that take place in our daily lives. Whether it’s low-level stress from a busy schedule or the extreme stress of a traumatic or overwhelming event, too much stress can lead to physical and mental health problems. Knowing how to manage your stress can keep you happier and healthier. Read on for information on the types of health problems that too much stress can evolve into, as well as tips on how to manage your stress.
Mental Health Problems Caused by Stress
While a certain amount of stress is normal, too much of it can cause mental health problems over time if you don’t know how to manage your stress. The most common mental health problems that stress can cause are depression and/or anxiety. In teens and adults, it can also cause the following problems:
- risky behaviors
- substance abuse
Particularly in adolescents, stress can raise cortisol levels, which can affect the developing brain and make your teen more vulnerable to serious psychiatric disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
One reason that stress overload can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions is that it’s exhausting, so it leaves you less energy to deal with your emotions. This can make you feel sad and down as well as nervous and full of worries. Once you can get your stress levels under control, anxiety and depression can lessen. This is particularly true when stress relief is combined with counseling and any medications prescribed for the mental health condition.
Physical Health Problems Caused by Stress
When you are under too much stress, physical symptoms you might experience includes:
- tightening of the neck muscles
- clenching hands
- increases heart rate
These are all normal responses to stress. When they persist, however, it can cause physical health problems such as:
- high blood pressure
- acid reflux
- muscular aches and pains
You could also suffer from digestive woes, like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Sometimes, stress causes panic attacks. While this is a mental health condition, it causes very real physical symptoms including:
- a racing or irregular heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
Many people with panic attacks go to the doctor many times because they think their symptoms are being caused by a physical illness.
How to Manage Your Stress With Self Care
Taking good care of yourself can help you manage your stress by not adding to it. For example, if you are eating poorly, your hunger and deficiency in the appropriate nutrients can make you feel weak, tired, and unable to cope with the stresses of daily life. Not getting enough sleep exhausts you and makes you feel like small stressors are much bigger than they actually are. Taking good care of yourself might not make your work stress go away or get you out of difficult situations, but it can absolutely impact how you react to the various stressful areas of your life.
Make is a point to keep up with self care when you are feeling stressed. This includes:
Getting Enough Sleep – Stress can make it difficult to sleep, which, in turn, makes it difficult to cope with your stress, creating a cycle. Talk to your doctor about ways you can sleep better even when you are under stress. Exercise is one thing that can help you sleep better.
Exercise Regularly – In addition to helping your sleep better, exercise also relieves anxiety, strengthens your heart, and gets your mind focused on things other than your problems. Make it a point to get 30 minutes of exercise each day. Just going for a walk can help clear your mind.
Eat a Balance Diet – Making good dietary choices can also help you feel your best. Focus on getting enough fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
Relaxation Techniques That Can Help
When you feel perpetually stressed, look for ways to relax. What works for you depends on your own preferences. You might like soaking in a hot bathtub, spending time in nature, going out with friends, or watching a funny movie with your partner. Many people find that exercise relaxes them. If you are in the midst of a stressful situation, getting out of it temporarily can reduce your anxiety. Even an hour away can work wonders and invigorate you enough to face your problems with a renewed sense of motivation.
Some relaxation techniques that you might try include:
- deep breathing
- guided meditation
- progressive muscle relaxation
A therapist can walk you through some of these methods, or you can find a variety of self-help videos on various websites. You’ve undoubtedly heard the advice to take deep breaths and count to ten when you are feeling stressed. Taking a few minutes to simply breathe and clear your head can bring your blood pressure down and help you cope with whatever is bothering you.
When to Seek Help for Your Stress
There are times in life when it’s common to seek outside help. If your stress is preventing you from sleeping, eating, or doing what needs to be done, it’s an indication that this is one of those times. If you are experiencing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or panic attacks, this is another reason why you might seek help. If you are feeling suicidal, it’s time to head to an emergency room or otherwise get urgent help.
In a non-emergency situation, seeing your primary care doctor can be the first step. He or she can assess you for various mental health conditions, check to be sure that nothing physical is amiss, and refer you for counseling or prescribe medication as needed. You could also contact a mental health professional for an evaluation.
Learning to cope with stress is important for everyone, from children and teens to adults and the elderly. If your teen is struggling with stress and anxiety, it’s important for him or her to learn coping skills now; they will serve him or her for a lifetime. Do not hesitate to seek help if you or a loved one are dealing with the physical or mental manifestations of stress. Once you learn how to manage your stress, you’ll feel much better and be better prepared to deal with stress that you experience in the future.