While stress is an inevitable part of life, too much stress can be a major roadblock to your health and well-being. A recent study in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes even found that the combination of stress and depression was associated with a nearly 50% greater chance of dying from a heart attack or suffering from heart disease, creating the “perfect storm” of health-sabotaging factors. Those aren’t the kind of odds you want to test.
Surprisingly, not all stress is bad for you. Just like we strengthen our muscles by “stressing” them when we lift weights, some stress can actually be a positive. In fact, stress – in the right doses – keeps us challenged and our minds active. The trouble comes when you remain in a constant state of alarm.
When faced with emergency situations, our bodies are hard-wired to go into a ‘fight or flight’ response. Cue the increased heart rate, sweating and rapid breathing – all responses that make sense when you’re in imminent danger but that can be overkill when you’re not. The problem is our bodies can’t necessarily tell the difference and have this same response to stressful situations that aren’t dangerous like a deadline at work or being stuck in traffic.
This leads to unhealthy increases of the hormone cortisol in your body, triggering the production of belly fat and several other negative physiological responses, including:
- Sleep disruption
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of stroke
- Weight gain
- Compromised immune system
- Increase in depression/suicidal thoughts
So what’s a stressed-out individual to do? Fear not! There ARE ways to mitigate the madness. Here are a few of our top tips:
- Find habits that help: Whether it’s making lists of things that you’re grateful for, keeping a journal, taking walks or concentrating on breathing, make a habit out of relaxation.
- Avoid habits that hurt: Avoid vices like smoking, drinking or relying on substances to get through the day. They can make your natural ability to cope cloudy and lead to additional problems.
- Be more assertive: For some, saying “no” is a challenge, which leads to taking on more than you can handle. Work on delegating or managing expectations by not saying “yes” to every request.
- Take care of yourself: Make sure to get enough sleep, eat right, and get moving.
- Find a social outlet: Whether it’s a family member, friend, support group or community, it helps to know you’re not alone.
If your stress continues to compound, or if you still feel like you can’t cope, seek professional assistance. Don’t wait until you just can’t take it anymore to get help. It’s also important to remember not to feel embarrassed to ask for help. Recognizing your own limitations is not a sign of weakness but rather the exact opposite. There’s strength in taking steps towards a solution.