Stress is a normal part of life. Your “fight or flight” response can keep you from getting injured and even save your life by giving you the boost of adrenaline that you need.
However, prolonged stress and chronic stress can have dire consequences for your health in the long run. Learning how to cope with and overcome this kind of stress is not just good for your own peace of mind, but also for your overall health.
In this article we’ll look at 9 common stressors and tried and tested ways of dealing with your stress in a healthy way.
Common stressors/stress triggers include
- A traumatic event
- Job insecurity, joblessness, being unhappy in your job, and having too much work or work responsibilities
- Getting married or divorced
- Emotional problems and mental or chronic illness
- Caring for a sick or dying loved one
- Financial problems, like a sudden increase in your financial obligations
- Moving to a new home, town, city or even country
- Living or working in a negative or dangerous environment
- The death of a loved one
Why you need to keep your stress under control
The symptoms of stress are varied and can be emotional, physical, and cognitive, for example:
- Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
- Being unable to relax
- Having a low self-esteem
- Having tense muscles, as well as aches and pains that are not due to injury
- Clenching your jaw and/or grinding your teeth
- Racing thoughts and constant worry
- Nervous behaviours like nail biting
- Using more alcohol, cigarettes, etc.
This means that your body is put under strain physically when you are stressing. However, when stress turns into chronic stress, other illnesses or conditions may result from it, including:
- Mental health problems like depression and anxiety
- Heart disease and heart attacks
- High blood pressure
- Eating disorders and obesity
- Skin and hair problems
- Gastrointestinal conditions, including GERD, gastritis, and ulcrative colitis.
How to deal with and overcome stress
There are many ways in which stress can be dealt with – unfortunately not all of them are healthy, as some turn to – for example – substance abuse to deal with their stress. However, here are some tried and true methods for dealing with stress over the short and long term in a healthy and productive way.
Mindfulness and mindfulness exercises
There are many ways of being mindful throughout the day. By being present in the moment and being mindful of what you’re doing, feeling, eating, etc. you can use exercises to lessen or remove stress when you are triggered instead of keeping it bottled up.
Some of the mindfulness exercises that you can try daily includes:
- meditation and/or prayer
- exercise like yoga
- start your morning with a purpose for the day – that is to say, something that you want to achieve on that day. It doesn’t have to be something enormous!
- breathing exercises
- mindful eating (instead of simply gulping down your lunch at your desk)
- building new, healthy habits that include being mindful every day.
An exercise regime, that includes exercising at least a few times per week, that’s followed for a prolonged length of time can have a remarkable effect on stress levels – not to mention your overall health. Exercise lowers your stress levels by not simply taking your mind off of the things that worries you, but will also improve your mood.
If you’re not already exercising regularly, start with light exercises and then work your way up to two and a half hours of exercise per week. (If you have any health concerns or injuries, be sure to speak to your health practitioner about the best exercises for you.)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of psychotherapy that uses practical exercises to change automatic negative and unhealthy thought patterns into healthy, positive ones. CBT usually lasts 6 – 8 sessions (but can be given longer if required).
Journaling, relaxation and mindfulness techniques, and mental distractions are just some of the exercises that are used in CBT to treat a variety of conditions, including depression and anxiety.
Craft therapy and art therapy
Craft therapy and art therapy (which are very similar, but craft therapy need not take place in a formal setting), is one of the easiest ways to relieve stress. Craft therapy is not limited to any one craft hobby, but can include basically anything that you create. For example, sewing, woodworking, knitting, painting, embroidery, papercraft, découpage, and jewellery making are all examples of hobbies that can be used as craft therapy.
What makes craft therapy so special is that you don’t have to be in a formal setting to be able to take part – you can be at home (or in your garage/workshop in the case of woodworking!) and doing it after work, before bed or over the weekends whenever it suits you or you need a bit of stress relief.
Some who do knitting and crochet as therapy have even found that taking a small project with them can relieve some of the stress of social anxiety. Work stress can also be relieved by using your lunch time to work on a needlework, knitting or crochet project.
Professional help and support
Whether you need help for mental illness, financial problems, or other health concerns, seeking out professional help and support is always a good idea. This will immediately take some of the burden off of your shoulders. You will also then know practically what steps you can take to overcome the thing(s) causing your stress.
For example, you can get help in looking for another job, get help moving out of an unhealthy environment, and more. Look for your local or national help centres or privately run centres, groups, and support groups and reach out to them for help.
Give yourself some time
Sometimes – like in the case of the death of a loved one – you must give yourself tie to grieve and work through the grieving process.
When you start to exercise, doing CBT, craft therapy, or another method to lessen your stress, you also need to give yourself time. Unfortunately your stress won’t be a thing of the past after one CBT session, and even mindfulness is an ongoing practice and not something that will end your stress in one day.
You don’t have to choose and use just one of these ways to cope with and overcome the stress in your life. In actual fact, it works better if you use a number of these strategies to holistically make changes in your life that will lead you to have less stress and know how to cope with that stress.