What’s Really Going on When You Freak Out?
Stressful events seem to be lurking around every corner, from a difficult deadline at work to your child’s upcoming science fair project – and the holidays are just around the corner. According to experts, not all stress is bad. For some people, a little stress acts as motivation to check a few more items off their daily to-do list. But what about when you feel completely overwhelmed?
Mental health experts advise that you know your personal limits to avoid serious side effects from stress. Some people cope with stress more effectively and recover from difficult events quicker so it is important to take a personal inventory every once in a while to avoid a major meltdown.
WHAT IS STRESS?
Stress is simply the brain’s response to any demand, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Stress can be recurring, short term or long term and is often triggered by some sort of change.
What are some of the stressors people put at the top of their list? Work, school, family, money, commuting and, of course, a lack of time is a major issue. Stress factors can be mild such as driving to work, major such as a divorce or extreme such as exposure to a violence incident. Major and extreme situations can lead to traumatic stress reactions so know when to seek professional help to work through these issues, experts say.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FEEL STRESSED?
Not all stress is bad, the NIH says. A stress response is normal and can be life-saving in certain situations. Nerve chemicals and hormones released during stressful situations prepare the body to react – fight-or-flight mode.
This includes breathing faster, an increased pulse rate, your muscles tense and your brain uses more oxygen to be ready to react quickly. The NIH says in the short term, stress can actually boost your immune system, too.
Our bodies are well-designed machines to react in miraculous ways when called upon; however, living in fight-or-flight mode can have an impact.
DOES STRESS TAKE A TOLL ON YOUR BODY?
The answer is yes, in some cases. If you experience chronic stress, the same chemicals produced to prepare your body to response keep going for longer periods of time and can impede other bodily functions including weakening your immune system and preventing your digestive, excretory and reproductive systems from working as they should. Chronic stress can lead to sleep and digestive issues, headaches and body aches, depression and irritability, just to name a few potential issues.
According to the Center for Disease Control/National Institute on Occupational Safety & Health, the workplace is the number one cause of life stress. The American Institute of Stress reports 120,000 people die every year as a direct result of work-related stress. Additionally, healthcare costs resulting from work-related stress totals an average of $190 billion a year.
The NIH says continued strain on your body from routine stress is often the hardest to detect but could lead to serious health problems such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Anxiety disorder
- Other illnesses
Chronic stress is linked to six leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide, according to the American Psychological Association.
It is important to take steps to manage chronic stress to ensure your body is functioning as it should and for your overall health and well-being.
HOW TO COPE WITH STRESS
To manage your stress level, it is important to have a plan; however, experts advise you to seek help from a qualified mental health care provider if you are overwhelmed, have suicidal thoughts, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope.
Consider the following ways to keep stress in check:
- Take care of your health and make time for regular checkups
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Get support from friends and family
- Recognize signs of stress such as difficulty sleeping and lack of energy
- Make a to-do list to get your priorities in order
- Give yourself a pat on the back for what you’ve accomplished each day
- Let go of problems that you cannot fix
- Schedule time for yourself to relax
- Consider yoga or meditation
- Give breathing exercises a try
- Spend some time outdoors for a change of scenery
- Try your hand at a new hobby such as running or painting
Knowing when you need a break and doing what works best for you can be the best medicine to deal with the stress of daily life!