Rest and reset has been my personal mantra for the past few weeks. We’ve entered 2021, and as a full-time student my spring semester is getting ready to kick into full gear, and as a part-time worker things are a little grim watching COVID cases rise. Throw in personal stress and you’ve got the perfect concoction for burnout! I know a lot of people are going through the same or similar predicaments, and to help us understand a little more of what’s going on, it’s affect on us, and what we can do to help ourselves, I decided to dive a little deeper into the concept of stress.
We Can Define Stress As…
In its simplest form, stress can be defined as a feeling of emotional or physical tension. To expand, Medlineplus.gov shares the two different types of stress.
- Acute, which is short-term. We experience this type of stress when you almost get in a car wreck, it’s like an adrenaline rush and is what helps us navigate sticky situations.
- Chronic, which occurs for a longer period of time. If your stress lasts more than a week, or the cause of the stress last for a long period, such as having financial issues, you’re most likely experiencing chronic stress.
What Happens To Us When We Experience Stress?
We all know that feeling stressed out isn’t a good feeling, but what’s actually happening inside of us? Healthline.com helps break it down for us:
- First off, our central nervous system is in charge of releasing hormones in response to help keep us safe. Our hypothalamus signals to our adrenal glands to release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline so we’re revved and ready to run if needed.
- These hormones affect our respiratory and cardiovascular systems, as during our stress response our heart is beating faster, and our blood vessels constrict and direct oxygen to our muscles. Our blood pressure also raises, which raises chances of having a heart attack or a stoke.
- Our liver is part of the stress response as well! During this time, our liver creates more energy for us by making extra blood sugar, or glucose.
- I’m sure we’ve all experienced the muscle tension that comes with being upset and stressed out. It’s not fun, and leaves us achy and feeling even worse than we were. Our muscles tense to try and brace to protect us, but if that tension isn’t released, it can lead to headaches and pain in your shoulders and back.
- Our digestive system can also be negatively impacted by our stress response. Your chance of acid reflux and heartburn increases as the rapid heart rate, breathing, and hormone increase upsets our digestive system.
- And last we have our immune system. The fascinating relationship between stress and our immune system is, it actually has a positive effect and stimulates it, assisting in healing and fighting off infections. However, as time goes on and we descend into chronic stress, that positivity takes a turn and starts to weaken our immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to illnesses.
How Do I Know When Enough Is Enough?
A little bit of stress is actually good for us! It helps keep us alert, awake, oriented, and ready to tackle whatever comes at us. As we’ve discussed though, when we start moving into chronic stress, things take a turn. Medlineplus.gov and ClevelandClinic.org share symptoms we should look out for that may suggest we’re moving into chronic stress:
- Frequent aches/pains, stiff jaw/neck, and headaches
- Upset stomach/indigestion/acid reflux
- Grinding teeth
- Cold and sweaty palms
- Trembling or shaking
- Sleeping difficulties or sleeping too much
What We Can Do To Help Ourselves
Whether you’re experiencing acute or chronic stress, there are ways to help yourself feel better emotionally and physically! The best thing is, they’re all free; you don’t have to buy a facemask or bubble bath to help yourself feel relaxed. You already have all the tools you need! Mdanderson.org has some great suggestions on how to help chill out:
- Make a gratitude list! You can write it down on a piece of paper, or simply go over it in your head as you’re walking to lunch. Studies show that the more people practice gratitude, the more feelings of well-being they have. You can be thankful for your warm jacket, your favorite lunch, your pets, plants, a warm blanket, the possibilities are endless!
- Structure can help relieve tension. Making sure you have landmarks in your day makes you feel like you know what’s coming. So make sure to take your 2:30 afternoon break, brew that cup of tea in the morning, or journal when you get home.
- Mindfulness can help get us out of our heads and back into the present. If you’re feeling especially overwhelmed, try this exercise: think of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Exercise! You can boost your feel-good neurotransmitters, also known as endorphins! Even if you just do a quick 5-minute yoga or tai chi video. Another alternative is one of my favorites: forest bathing, also known as nature bathing or Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy! This little-known gem is about connecting with yourself and the world around you, while getting the extra benefit of phytoncides! If you’re interested in learning more about forest bathing and how to participate, check out my article on it here!
Now that you know the basics of what stress is, what to look for, how it affects us, and how we can help ourselves, it’s time to dive into the new year calm, relaxed, and rejuvenated! I wish you all relaxation, and thank you for reading!
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S.T.R.E.S.S. = Someone Trying to Repair Every Situation Solo.Dave Willis
- Alexander, Heather. “6 Stress Relievers That Work.” Mdanderson.org, https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/6-stress-relievers-that-work.h13-1593780.html. Accessed 6 January 2021.
- Pietrangelo, Ann. “The Effects of Stress on Your Body.” Healthline.com, https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#3. Accessed 6 January 2021.
- “Stress.” ClevelandClinic.org, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress. Accessed 6 January 2021.
- “Stress and Your Health.” MedlinePlus.gov, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm#:~:text=Stress%20is%20a%20feeling%20of,danger%20or%20meet%20a%20deadline. Accessed 6 January 2021.