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To understand and better manage any stress that we may encounter in our day to day lives, it’s a good idea to first understand what it is, and how it affects each of us differently.
Stress is our body’s reaction to a difficult situation, which can lead to physical and mental symptoms. Some may find themselves sweating or shaking when stressed, and others may experience prolonged periods of worry or mental tension, to name but a few.
Some people thrive off stress; in fact, research has shown that stress can sometimes be a positive thing, as it can help to keep us alert while assisting us in performing better. However, prolonged periods of stress can have astronomical affects on our health. It can lead to irreversible illnesses, such as heart disease, and can have long term affects on our mental health too.
There are many ways in which we can work to increase our awareness of the occurrences and situations that raise our stress levels. Putting ourselves first in any number of situations can help, but there’s almost always a deeper meaning to what stresses us out. Many of these things can’t be avoided, but we can develop ways of coping that will assist us. But what are some of the main elements of life that contribute heavily to our levels of stress?
Often, we can rely heavily on the relationships we have with others to be a source of comfort and support in our times of stress. However, it can occasionally be these relationships that cause us to experience stress, especially when we encounter situations such as break-ups, disagreements, bereavement or illness, for example. It’s important to acknowledge the people who are there for us during these times, and ensure they know they’re appreciated.
For many, money can be a primary source of stress. Finances, especially debt, can be a source of worry that, without asking for help, people can often see as a major brick wall in their lives. The combination of debt and stress can lead to serious mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, which in turn can have catastrophic affects.
For those who are employed full time, it has been calculated that one third of our lives will be spent at work (Gettysburg College). This calculation has been predicated on a base rate of 35-40-hour weeks. However, often many can resort to working overtime, whether this is due to being employed in a high-pressure job or because they are paid on a PAYE basis and increased hours leads to increased take home pay. Regardless of the reason for work-related stress, so many of us will experience it at some point in our lives, and it’s not something to be taken lightly.
Although often used as a coping mechanism, substance abuse can – and often will – lead to further issues. Nicotine creates immediate, temporary relaxation, leading to withdrawal symptoms and cravings, meaning that smoking can lead to higher levels of anxiety. Similarly, consuming large amounts of alcohol profoundly alters an individual’s mood, behaviour, and neuropsychological functioning. On an extreme level, those who become addicted to substances like drugs will have severe withdrawal symptoms, again leading to increased levels of stress.
There are many small changes we can make in our lives to reduce stress. Not only will these changes help us avoid stress-related illness later in life, but they will increase our overall health.
Firstly, although it may sound simple, it is always critical to understand what’s behind the cause of your stress. Anything can be a catalyst, and it’s difficult to come up with a practical solution if you don’t understand what the cause was in the first place. Whether it’s money, work, relationships or something else – understanding what got you to this place is a big part of knowing how to move forward, and the next steps to take.
When you’ve identified what’s causing you to feel the way that you do, try and take some time out from it to relax, unwind, and clear your mind. Fretting and dwelling on the situation will only make things worse. Striking the correct balance between time for other things compared with time for yourself is crucial to reducing stress levels. Focus on partaking activities that make you happy – and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to others.
There is increasing evidence that the food we consume can have a profound affect on the way we feel. What we eat provides our body with nutrients, which ensures healthy brain function. On top of this, a healthier diet can influence our energy levels and have positive effects on our motivation, meaning we are more likely to engage in exercise.
As we said before, if you find yourself surrounded by negative influences, you’ll also probably find that your stress levels are increased. Maintaining positive relationships should be considered a necessary investment in your health. It’s important to choose to spend your time with people who not only make you happy, but who really care about your wellbeing. We can often find ourselves taking these people for granted as we’re concentrating our efforts elsewhere – whether we mean to or not. It’s crucial to recognise this, and build a network of support for ourselves while also being there for other people.
All too often, the opinions of others can be profoundly influential. Regardless of whether these opinions come from a place of good intention, they’re not always what we need or want to hear. A lot of the time, we overthink and fret about what other people might think or say when we do something we want to do. But, at the end of the day, you are the only one living your life, and therefore the only opinion that matters should be your own.
To sum up, there’s plenty of viable reasons for stress levels to increase – but there’s also a multitude of things we can do to combat it. Part of the key is to not be too hard on yourself; we all have off days, and we’ll experience better days again. Do what makes you happy – you only have one life, so live it!
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