Why We Feel Stressed & How We Can Manage It

By Christina Finch, MS4

Everybody feels stressed once in a while. We get stressed about lots of different things throughout the day. It could be worrying about the health and wellbeing of a loved one or running late to a meeting because of traffic. Stress can limit us from enjoying our lives and living in the moment. It can be tough to relax when feeling stressed! Thankfully, there are a few things we can all do to lower the amount of stress in our lives.

What causes stress?

Stress does play an important role in keeping us safe. It happens as a direct effect from the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. What if we were being chased by a lion? It would be in our best interest to either run away or fight back. The fight-or-flight response sends energy to our muscles so that we can respond to dangerous situations quickly. Our breathing gets faster so that we can take in more oxygen. Our blood pressure also gets faster to move this oxygen-rich blood to our muscles. That’s why we can actually feel a change within our bodies when we are stressed about something. We can feel our heart racing during a stressful conversation or even while watching your favorite sports team, especially if you made a bet on the game!

Feeling stress during life-threatening situations and responding is important, like if you had to jump out of the way of a car. Feeling that same level of stress on a daily basis while not being faced with life-threatening situations puts a lot of pressure on our bodies and can lead to health issues.

Common non life-threatening things that people stress about include a dispute or argument, busy schedules, relationships, public speaking, getting stuck in traffic, money, and just worrying about what things might be coming next. What are some things in your daily life that cause stress?

How does stress affect my health?

Stress affects nearly every system in our body. When we are always stressed, our bodies use a lot of energy for the fight-or-flight response (even when we are not in a life threatening situation) and there is not always enough energy left to keep the day-to-day functions of our body running smoothly. When our body isn’t putting resources where it needs to, it’s easier for us to get sick. Who knew that little worries could have such a large impact!

Stressed? Step back for perspective!

Recognizing when we’re stressed is the first step to managing it. Often times, we worry and stress about things that are out of our control. Stressing about things we can’t change can negatively affect our health and make us more likely to get sick. Try to make an effort to think positively about the next stressful situation you are faced with that is out of your control. Thinking about positive things that might happen instead of focusing on the bad can help to quiet our stressed and anxious minds. This can be easier said than done, but with practice you will get better at it.

How can I manage stress in my daily life?

What makes you feel calm, happy and relaxed? For some people, stress relief comes in the form of deep breathing exercises, walking in nature, exercising, listening to music, cooking, or spending time with loved ones. These activities might be different for some people, and that’s okay! Find an activity that puts your mind at ease and do it as often as you need to.

More ways to manage stress

There are lots of great stress-relief techniques. Ask your doctor if you have any concerns about participating in these activities. Here are some of my favorite (and affordable)  stress-reduction techniques:

Yoga - Combines meditation, breath control and full-body movement to help you relax. YouTube has lots of free online videos to follow along with at home. There are different types of yoga for different abilities, including chair yoga which is great for those with mobility challenges.
Beginner Yoga Class: http://bit.ly/1cSrOt3
Gentle Seated Chair Yoga: http://bit.ly/1uX0e7H
Easy Chair Yoga with Mary:  http://bit.ly/2jZCoPf

Tai Chi/Qigong - Slow-moving, standing exercise that involves the breath, mind, and body movement to achieve greater awareness, well-being, and improving balance.
Gentle Seated and Standing Tai Chi: http://bit.ly/2yfFi4R

Meditation - Usually a sitting mental exercise focused on breathing and thought control for the purpose of becoming more aware and living in the present.
Guided Meditation for Relaxation: http://bit.ly/1BBZaM0
Smart phone apps for short guided meditations: Calm, Headspace, Buddhify, Aura
Mindful Minute- S.T.O.P. Exercise: http://bit.ly/1MGM7Rn

Acupuncture - A treatment using small needles in certain areas of the body for some physical or emotional conditions (it might sound scary but it really doesn’t hurt!) Make sure you only get acupuncture done by a trained professional.
Many practices offer Integrative Medicine services, which can include acupuncture. Ask your doctor if acupuncture is covered by your insurance.
Community acupuncture clinics (cost for treatment is often based on income).
Turner, ME: http://bit.ly/2fl1neD
Portland, ME: http://bit.ly/2yt3bXr

Where can I learn more?

There are tons of resources available to learn more about stress and how to manage it well. These are 2 of my favorite books. They have helped me with my journey to relaxation and mindfulness!
Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky
How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness, by Jan Chozen Bays

The MaineHealth Learning Resource Center has lots of stress-relief and mindfulness books and classes. Connect with them today to ask what they can offer you!

Remember: we never know what the future has in store for us, health-related or otherwise, but we do have control over our thoughts and it is these thoughts that shape the way we live, including stress response, health, and happiness.

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