Posted on April 27, 2022

Five Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

Stress and mental health go hand in hand, and having the ability to cope with stress is essential for overall health and wellness. Unfortunately, many coping mechanisms for stress can be detrimental or even outright harmful. Here are some key signs that stress is affecting your mental health, as well as some strategies for dealing with psychological stress in your everyday life.

How to Know if Stress is Affecting Your Health

Stress is your body’s way of adapting to an ever-changing environment. This adaptation can even be to positive factors such as a new job or anticipation of a new opportunity in life. However, when these stressors are negative, they can begin to cause adverse health effects when not dealt with promptly.

Health problems related to stress are common. Forty-three percent of adults report suffering from health problems related to their stress, while as many as 75 to 90 percent of all visits to a doctor’s office can be attributed to symptoms and conditions brought on by stress.

Physical Symptoms of Stress

Stress can manifest in a variety of physical symptoms, including aches and pains caused by tension, high blood pressure, and ongoing digestive issues. More troubling, however, is that these conditions can cause long-term damage to the body. This is because the body’s autonomic nervous system–commonly thought of as the “fight-or-flight” response–is always activated, and the body never gets a chance to properly recover.

Mental and Emotional Symptoms of Stress

In addition to the physical symptoms of stress, mental and emotional conditions can also take a toll on day-to-day life. Anxiety, depression, and even panic attacks brought on by stress can make it difficult for some to engage in daily life. This psychological stress can also cause individuals to either lash out at family and friends or withdraw from relationships altogether, thereby causing further isolation and discomfort.

Five Ways to Manage Your Stress

Stress doesn’t need to control your life. Taking small, actionable steps can dramatically improve your stress levels. Best of all, many of these activities require few, if any, outside resources. Here are five simple methods for handling stress in your life. 

Exercise Your Body

One of the most effective ways to manage stress is through exercise. You don’t need to be an athlete to reap the benefits of exercise, either. Getting up and active will allow you to gain better control over your stress levels. The next time you find yourself stressed, try going for a short walk to see if your mood improves.

Try Meditation

Meditation is another great way to handle stress. While many associate meditation with yoga, mantras, or special exercises, meditation can more simply be thought of as practicing mindfulness. The next time you find yourself stressed, take some time to slow down and focus on being present in the moment. Find a comfortable place to sit and breathe deeply while focusing on each breath.

Get More Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of life. However, one in three adults in the United States report not getting the necessary seven hours of sleep each night according to the CDC. This lack of sleep can increase stress because the body releases more of the hormone cortisol. By getting more sleep at night, you’ll allow your body to rest and recover at the end of each day, giving it a chance to reset at the end of a stressful day.

Talk it Out

Sometimes, all it takes to improve your stress levels is a friendly ear who will listen to you. Talking through your problems has been shown to reduce stress levels and improve overall health. While professional therapy is a great option, finding a friend or family member to confide in and work through problems with can be helpful, too.

Indulge in a Hobby

Another great way to manage stress is taking part in activities that make you feel better. Set aside some time for yourself to read a good book, watch a movie, or partake in another hobby. These little breaks from the daily routine can give you something to look forward to and improve your mood.

Unhealthy Ways to Deal with Stress

Not all methods for dealing with stress are effective. Some activities may relieve stress initially, but can make stress worse down the road. Even more problematic, some of these activities can harm your physical health, as well.

Drugs and Alcohol

One of the most dangerous ways to deal with stress is to rely on drugs and alcohol. Due to the addictive nature of these substances, it’s easy for problems to quickly spiral out of control. While an occasional social drink may be acceptable, know the signs of alcohol problems to avoid developing a dependency.

Overeating

“Comfort foods” are meals designed to improve mood. Though there’s nothing wrong with an occasional culinary indulgence, relying too heavily on fatty or sugary foods as a method of coping with stress can come with its own set of consequences. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, two out of every three U.S. adults are overweight, while one in three are considered obese.

In addition to the physical health problems brought on by overeating, mental health can also be made worse. Once the feelings of euphoria from a meal wane, feelings of guilt may set in, creating a vicious cycle that can further degrade mental health and lead to disordered eating.

Impulsive Activities

“Retail therapy” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to going shopping as a form of stress relief. The reality is that this can quickly become something far more problematic. Impulsive behavior brought on by stress can have severe financial repercussions. Whether it comes in the form of a shopping addiction or another impulsive behavior like gambling, what begins as stress relief can exponentially increase stress long-term.

According to a Capital One survey, 73 percent of Americans rank finances as the number one form of stress in life, so uncontrolled spending can quickly make these problems worse.

Prioritize Your Mental Health

You don’t need to let stress control your life. These simple coping mechanisms for stress can help you live a more balanced life. At the same time, avoiding these negative activities highlighted here can ensure you don’t amplify your stress in other ways.

Mental health is a vital part of treating health care as self care. The Primary Care & Wellness Center at Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa can help you be the best version of yourself. We accept patients of all ages and our doctors can assist with a wide range of medical conditions. 

If you or a family member would like to meet with a member of our team, schedule an appointment and see for yourself why PCI is ranked in the top 10 percent nationally for patient satisfaction.