Feelings of stress affect everyone from time to time. The stress response is a survival mechanism that can help you to be more alert and focused when faced with danger. The nervousness you feel before giving a speech or going for a job interview often motivates you to be more prepared and may improve your performance. In emergency situations, the stress response may save your life when it gives you added strength or alertness during an accident or attack.
Since 1992, April has been Stress Awareness Month, a time when mental health experts and other healthcare professionals work to increase public awareness about stress, including its causes and cures. It’s a good time to think about coping mechanisms that can help reduce the negative effects of stress in your life.
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Ongoing Stress and Its Effects
When stress is continuous, the stress response stops being helpful and may instead leave you feeling drained and demotivated. Stress that’s negative or ongoing such as a medical crisis or loss of a job can cause health problems or aggravate health conditions you may already have.
Stress can affect both your mental and physical health. Problems you may experience from excessive stress include:
- Sleep problems
- Loss of appetite or binge eating
- Depression or anxiety
- Memory problems
- Moodiness or irritability
- Digestive problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease or stroke
Stress can contribute to worsening symptoms of any type of mental illness. For example, if you have bipolar disorder, episodes of both mania and depression may be triggered by ongoing stress. When you feel stressed, you may be at higher risk of being susceptible to substance abuse.
Practicing Mindfulness to Reduce Stress
Awareness of how stress is affecting your life is an important first step toward better coping skills. Mindfulness is a state of intentional focus on the present moment. Awareness of the sights, smells and sounds around you and paying attention only to the present moment can reduce racing thoughts or ruminating about things that might not happen.
One of the simplest ways to practice mindfulness is to focus on your breath as it moves gently in and out. You can also focus your attention on one body part at a time, noticing what you’re feeling without judgment and without trying to force any kind of change. Practice mindfulness while doing exercises such as walking or yoga, noticing the physical sensations you’re experiencing just in this moment in time.
Exercise and Nutrition for Stress Relief
Taking care of your body by consuming healthy foods and exercising can improve your ability to cope with stress. The food you eat can affect your mood, and if your diet consists mostly of junk food or convenience foods, it can impact your physical and mental health. Choosing healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high-quality proteins can help to improve your coping abilities.
Exercising regularly is a great way to lift a negative mood or to burn off feelings of anxiousness. Whether you walk, dance, jog or swim, adding some form of activity to your life can be very effective in improving your ability to handle stress.
Getting Help When You’re Overwhelmed
There are times when coping with stress doesn’t seem possible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, it’s important to ask for help from your doctor or a mental health professional.
Turning to alcohol or other substances to alter negative feelings can be a sign that you’re having difficulty coping with stress. Get help right away if your substance use seems to be out of control or if you’re having thoughts of suicide or feeling extremely hopeless.
If you or a loved one are struggling with stress or another mental illness, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our treatment programs in Los Angeles.