There are so many things that contribute to stress in this day and age.
Social media, the pandemic and current rise in covid numbers, the cost of gas, groceries, rent, houses, interest rates, inflation, careers, relationships, our health and so much more.
2022 Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association (APA), named “Stress in America 2022,” describes what we’re facing as an epidemic. One-third of adults polled reported that stress is “completely overwhelming” most days. Seventy-six percent said they have experienced health impacts from stress in the past month including headache, fatigue, and anxiety.
What Is Stress?
You know it when you feel it: Your stomach is flipping, your temples are throbbing, your neck feels tight, it's hard to concentrate. But what exactly is stress? Understanding stress can be the first step in coping with it.
Stress is your body and mind’s way of helping you successfully respond to challenges in your environment. Our stress response was created to keep us safe and help us survive. When our minds perceive something as a threat our bodies get ready for action to meet the threat. Stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine ramp up to provide energy. Breathing quickens, the heart pumps harder, and the immune system gears up to be ready to respond to injury. Once the threat is vanquished and the threat is over, the body returns to a state of rest and restoration. This is known as fight-or-flight.
You have been given this fight -or- flight response because there are times you must act quickly such as when a driver cuts you off in traffic suddenly. If we didn’t have that system kick in when we needed it to, we wouldn’t be here.
The Problem of Chronic Stress
Our stress response becomes problematic when what was meant as an occasional emergency response becomes your day-to-day life and a chronic state instead. Life can feel like an endless stream of emergencies: constant phone alerts, emails, endless to-do lists, your checking account balance and the list goes on and on. Although our stressors are often not life-threatening our bodies still produce a biological response. We weren’t designed to be stressed constantly. Biologically, it’s a very energy-intensive state, and it’s very hard on the body and mind to maintain.
A state of chronic stress takes a heavy toll on the body’s systems. Research has linked chronic stress to a host of physical and mental conditions from high blood pressure to weight gain to digestive problems. A 2022 study out of Yale University found that chronic stress actually makes us age faster at the cellular level, speeding up our biological clocks and shortening our life spans.
Chronic stress also has profound consequences for our emotional health. It can precipitate anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and depression. The APA Harris survey found that a fifth of adults said stress had caused them trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, or difficulty making decisions. Your thoughts can become a stressor even in the absence of an outside threat. Just thinking about your long to-do list can cause your heart to race and your stomach to churn.
Oftentimes we may turn to unhealthy ways of coping and quick relief by eating, drinking, and/or smoking more. These quick fixes may feel good at the moment but can cause further damage to our physical and mental health.
5 Healthy Ways to Manage Stress
Escaping forever to a tropical hideaway with no Wi-Fi often feels like what we need but this is unrealistic for most of us. The good news: While inflation, caregiving, and work deadlines may be here to stay, there are still things you can do to boost your resilience to stress.
The same Yale study found that subjects who rated higher in measures of psychological resilience did not show the same damaging effects of chronic stress on the body.
Press pause and take an honest look at your day-to-day life. Reflect on how you’re feeling physically and mentally and identify the stressors that may be contributing (e.g., being on your phone constantly, skimping on sleep, taking on too many volunteer projects). Recognizing your stressors is the first step to being able to do something about them. You may not be able to eliminate your life’s stressors entirely but reflecting on those aspects you can control and doing something about them can be very helpful.
2. Lean on your Support System
Being around people you trust can calm your body and mind. People who have a social support system cope better. You don’t have to talk to them about your problems, just being around people you love, and trust improves stress. Make spending time with family and friends a priority. If you don’t have friends or family you can trust, pets can also offer us social support and reduce stress and feelings of loneliness.
3. Try Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to offer a host of stress-busting benefits — from lowering blood pressure to easing anxiety. Regular practice can help you become less reactive. It gives you the opportunity to sit back, take a breath, and think before you shoot back a reply to that distressing email.
4. Practice Good Self-Care
Stress depletes your mental and physical resources, so good self-care can help you be more resilient. Prioritize sufficient sleep, unplug, listen to relaxing music, take a bath or relaxing shower, move your body and eat food the nourishes and energizes your body.
5. Seek Help
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we reach a state of complete overwhelm. (An alarming 27 percent of Harris’s survey respondents reported that some days they are so stressed they can’t function.) Seeking professional help can be an empowering step toward coping better, advises the American Psychological Association.
If you feel stuck in overwhelm, please know you do not have to stay here. I have been there. I was so caught up in the cycle of stress and overwhelm my mind could not function to complete day-to-day tasks such as completing a grocery list and the idea of doing another thing would bring me to tears.
You may not be as overwhelmed as I was but know you deserve peace. Any amount of chronic stress is too much. If you feel stressed, please reach out to me at KameshaTarell.com for a free Clarity Consult. Stress depletes our creativity and our ability to find solutions to common issues. Together we will create a plan to reduce your stress levels and get clear on what’s in your control, what’s not, what you can peacefully do and what you can let go of or shift how you’re currently doing things. You are not alone.