Stress is something we all face from time to time, and something some of us face rather too often. You may manage to deal with stress in a healthy way, by turning to sport, good friends, or relaxing activities like massage or yoga to decompress, but that doesn't always work. When stress is an ongoing player in your life and you can't find relief, either because you're not sure how to cope well, because you're in denial about how stressed you are, or because the cause of your stress is something you don't have any influence over, your stress may start to manifest in physical ways.
What Does Stress Do To Your Body?
Stress is, let's face it, something nobody can completely escape. Fortunately, since stress is such an integral part of the human experience, your body has evolved to cope with it. Stress is a normal reaction to tense and potentially dangerous situations. It can serve to keep the mind and body alert. Running on adrenalin all the time isn't a good thing, but certain circumstances can require it.
These symptoms may be hard to recognize as being caused directly by stress, since they are things many people experience for various reasons. But there's more. Suddenly being unable to speak clearly, being sweaty, having cold extremities, a dry mouth, general low energy, and even falling ill frequently due to a weakened immune system can also be symptoms of stress. Weight loss or weight gain can also be symptoms of stress. Furthermore, research indicates that long-term stress can worsen pre-existing medical conditions.
On the mental side, you may find yourself getting frustrated more quickly than before, may develop a temper, or withdraw into yourself and lose interest in the very activities that could help you overcome your stress. You may lose your libido and see negative changes in your relationship overall. You may also turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress. People who suffer from chronic stress may see alcohol, drugs, binge eating, gambling and other addictions. These coping mechanisms may temporarily make you feel better, because they make you forget your stress, but in the long run they end up merely adding to your problems.
Because stress can have such huge effects, it is really important to recognize that your symptoms are in fact caused by it. Note that not all people experience all symptoms of stress — how you try to cope and what physical symptoms of stress you experience as as individual as the people who walk the Earth!
How Can You Cope With Stress Healthily?
Coping with stress healthily is the key to seeing an improvement in your symptoms. That may be easier said than done, but you should certainly be working towards this. The first step may be analyzing exactly what is causing your stress — and they may be multiple factors, of course — and examining what your stress is doing to your body. Once you know the answer to these questions, honestly ask yourself if there is any way to remove the stressors from your life altogether. Sometimes, you may conclude that the things that are causing you to feel stress will disappear after a while, like when a busy period at work is over. Sometimes, when your stressors are long term, you may want to see if you can make changes that make the stress go away, like a new job for instance.
Take Good Physical Care Of Yourself
Stressed people have a tendency to neglect themselves. They may skip meals or on the other hand engage in binge eating. They may rely on fast food to pull them through when they're too busy to prepare healthy meals. They may also stop working out and do unhealthy things like drink too much, smoke, or even use drugs. Taking good physical care of yourself means committing to eating healthy meals, three a day, exercising regularly, and avoiding addictive behaviors.
You may not be able to go to sleep, but do give yourself the chance. Turning off electronic devices (and therewith people who may contact you and cause you more stress) is a good idea. Read a book, talk to your partner, have a bath or do some yoga before bed instead of staying glued to your internet-connected devices. Enjoy some tea or a hot cocoa. In other words, allow yourself to unwind in the period leading up to bedtime in order to promote healthy sleep.
Allow Yourself Mental And Physical Breaks
Taking good physical care of yourself through periods of stress is essential, but so is removing yourself from your stressors on a regular basis. That means two things. First of all, it means physically stepping away from your stressors. All too often, stress is caused by work. If yours is too, leave your work at work. The same goes for stress caused by other situations too: do what you can to physically get away from it.
The other aspect of taking breaks is mental. Don't lie in bed obsessing over your challenges at work, for instance. Though it is hard to let go off the things that are stressing you out at the moment, constant worry isn't going to lead to better outcomes — quite the contrary, on many occasions, since worry spends your mental energy instead of leaving you awake and alert so you can be productive. Therefore, give real mental breaks a go. Tell yourself that you are now going to do other things and not worry about the things that are making you stressed. This takes practice, but in time it's likely to work.
Getting the things that are bothering you off your chest truly can work like a good medicine! You can talk to your partner, friends, relatives, or even anonymous people on the internet about the challenges you are currently facing, and how they make you feel. This can often have a truly great effect on your overall mood and wellbeing. The people in your life who care about you won't feel burdened knowing that active listening can help you.
Good therapists will listen without judgment, something people close to the situation at hand are not always able to do. They can also help you recognize dangerous coping patterns and analyze the underlying reasons your stressors cause you stress. Think of a therapist as someone you pay to unload your worries onto; therapy isn't just for people with mental illness or trauma by any means. If you do engage a therapist, you may find that therapy becomes a safe island in time for you, as well as something that gives you the tools to go on and enjoy life again.