Six strategies to deal with stress
There’s no doubt about it, life can be stressful. Regardless of your age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or lifestyle, you have probably experienced a stressful situation at some point, and the way you choose to deal with it can drastically impact your health.
“Stress is a normal physical response to alert the body of possible danger or imbalance,” says Dr. Jacqueline Sze, Psychiatrist at The Scarborough Hospital. “In small doses, it’s an important reaction, but if you are consistently feeling overwhelmed, stress can cause major damage to your health, mood, productivity and relationships.”
If a person feels threatened, the brain releases a flood of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which trigger the body to take immediate defensive action known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. A person in this state can experience physical changes that include increased strength and stamina, better reaction time, and enhanced focus to defend against impending danger.
However, any stress beyond this initial reaction stops being helpful and can seriously affect a person’s quality of life.
Dr. Sze discusses some of the main ways you can minimize the harmful effects of stress.
1. Determine what is stressing you out. Stress can affect your work or personal life to the point where it becomes a part of your personality. If you are unsure of the specific source of your stress, start a journal documenting your emotions, responses and reactions to stressful situations.
2. Determine how you currently handle stress. Many people can turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms when dealing with stressful situations. Stress can impact your eating and sleeping habits, and can also lead to alcohol or drug abuse.
3. Develop a healthy way to manage your stress. Experts say you can do two main things to impact your reaction to a stressful situation—change the situation or change your reaction. You can remove the stressful situation or person from your life, or you can change the way you feel and act toward the situation.
4. Exercise regularly. Physical activity naturally increases a person’s endorphins, feel-good hormones, to lower stress. The rhythmic motion of running, walking or cycling can help you forget the daily irritants in your life, and focus on yourself and your body. Exercise also helps to improve quality of sleep, boost self-confidence and provide a sense of control, all of which play a role in stress reduction.
5. Actively engage in relaxation and stress reduction activities. Yoga, deep breathing exercises, meditation or tai chi can help you learn techniques to activate your natural relaxation response. A sense of deep calm transitions your body away from its stressful state to help you achieve balance even for those with a hectic lifestyle. Simply laughing can also drastically lower your stress level as can healthy hobbies and quality time spent with your loved ones.
6. Develop a strong social support system. Meaningful relationships with family and friends can greatly enhance mental and physical health. Studies have shown that support from loved ones can relieve harmful levels of stress, improve heart health and immune systems, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and ultimately help you lead a longer and more fulfilling life.
Remember that stress disrupts almost every system in the body and long-term exposure to unhealthy levels of stress can lead to serious health conditions, including high blood pressure, a lowered immune system, heart attack and stroke. It can even play a role in infertility as well as speed up the aging process.