Stress is a natural part of life: it tells us when we need to act, motivates us, and even helps us develop for the better. However, too much stress can cause a laundry list of negative side effects, impacting both your physical and mental health. 55% of Americans report daily stress; Americans actually experience a 20% higher stress level than the global norm. So, what techniques can you utilize for stress relief and how can you improve your mind/body/soul health?
Stress has effects on your physical body, mood, and behavior. You might not realize it at the moment, but many common ailments can be linked back to stress. In the short term, stress can cause:
It can make you feel restless, unmotivated, overwhelmed, anxious, sad, and even angry. As a result, you might have an angry outburst, withdraw from friends and family, overeat, or turn to other substances, like alcohol, to cope.
Worse still, chronic stress, which is ongoing stress that lasts over an extended period of time, is linked to more serious health issues. This includes diseases like obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, and metabolic syndrome. People with chronic stress often get secondary diagnoses for mood and anxiety disorders.
Many of us live under constant stress, which makes it seem like part of our normal lives. This can make identifying your stressors particularly difficult. However, once you identify your triggers, you can move on to stress relief, so this step is key.
Some stressors might be obvious – you’re assigned a last-minute project at work and you immediately get a pit in your stomach. Others are less clear – positive events like getting married might be stressful, but it can be hard to recognize your stress level when you’re also excited.
To identify what’s stressing you out, take note of any time you feel a sign of stress. Whenever you get a headache or notice that you’re in a foul mood, pause and connect the dots. What led to the symptom? This takes some practice, but once you do it consistently you can begin to really note what’s bringing you stress. You may even jot down what’s causing you stress in a notebook, then look for common themes once you’ve done the practice for a few weeks.
It can also help to understand what common stress triggers other people experience so that you can spot them in your own life. They typically include:
Once you identify your stressors, you can begin down the path toward stress relief. Try the following methods to reduce your stress and improve mind/body/soul wellness.
The best, but potentially hardest, way to improve your stress is to remove the things that cause you to feel this way. If your job stresses you out, you probably won’t just quit. However, you can set healthy boundaries – for example, don’t check work emails when you’re at home.
Likewise, if a certain social media personality causes you undue stress, unfollow them. Perhaps you even head out to a wellness resort to step away from your triggers, allowing you a clear headspace to reevaluate what you do and don’t need in your life.
Goal-setting might seem counterintuitive, but it can actually help you feel more in control. By setting reasonable goals that you can meet, you’ll feel like you’re in the driver’s seat. Breaking down large goals into manageable steps can also help provide some stress relief.
Speaking of goals, make sure you notice when you accomplish them – even small ones. At the end of the day, pat yourself on the back for what you’ve gotten done rather than focusing on what fell to the wayside. Celebrate when you hit milestones. Celebrating reduces stress because it releases oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine – neurotransmitters and hormones that promote a sense of mind/body/soul wellbeing.
Humans have used speech for centuries to let off steam. Whether via therapy or to friends and family, verbalizing your negative emotions or letting out your complaints can be incredibly healing. Research shows that sharing your problems with a trusted individual can strengthen the immune system while reducing physical and emotional stress.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your problems there’s also some evidence that writing about them can provide similar benefits. This is why you’ll often encounter talk therapy or writing exercises at a wellness resort.
We all know that exercise is key for the body, but it also has impressive impacts on your mental health. Aerobic exercise reduces your levels of stress hormones, like cortisol. It stimulates endorphins, which boost the mood and act as natural painkillers. They’re what gives you that ecstatic feeling after you finish a workout – the infamous “runner’s high.” Plus, when you exercise consistently, your self-image and confidence also improves, which can change your behavior and actually improve outcomes in daily life, again reducing stress.
Stress can have several negative impacts on the diet. It makes us crave comfort foods, which are generally highly processed and high in calories. It can also make us lack motivation, leading us to reach for less-than-healthy foods. For some people, stress acts as an appetite suppressant, which can also stop you from getting the nutrients you need.
Meanwhile, consuming a healthy, balanced diet can help repair damaged cells and boost your immune system, which your body needs to cope with stress. Certain foods, like omega-3s, can regulate cortisol. Stress-induced unhealthy food habits can become a vicious cycle – you eat processed food and feel bad, so you reach for more unhealthy food to comfort yourself. However, only once you break out of the loop can you lower your stress levels.
Ultimately, stress relief should be part of your whole mind/body/soul wellness effort. Sometimes we need a kickstart to get out of our bad habits – in which case a wellness resort or program could be helpful – click here to check out Hilton Head Health’s award-winning wellness programs. Whatever you do, set the intention to do better and take things one step at a time. Your body will thank you.