It’s no secret that stress has become a pandemic of our times. And, in today’s hyper-connected, technologically advanced world, people are more stressed out than ever before. Everywhere we turn, we are confronted with new information, different stimuli and unexpected triggers. This results in our bodies being on high alert most of the time. This elevated stress response is an automatic reaction that has helped humans survive for thousands of years through what is commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. When someone senses danger, their body readies itself to either confront the threat or escape from it. Stress keeps us alert and primed for action so we can respond appropriately to any threat – physical or otherwise – and not just cower in fear or run away at the first sign of danger.
Disruptive, traumatic experiences happen to almost everyone. It’s how we respond to these events that matters. Negative emotions like fear and anxiety are normal in such situations, but too much stress can lead to serious side effects. As an individual enters into a period of increased stress or negative feelings, the body begins producing stress hormones to maintain homeostasis. These hormones have very beneficial effects when the stress response is short-term and occasional. In other words, your body needs these chemicals for you to operate under high alert and fight or flee from danger. More than this, however, is damaging to your body as well as your mind. What are the effects of too much stress?
Immediate Effects of Stress
Stress can make you feel anxious, irritable, and depressed. It can also affect your ability to concentrate and remember things. In some people, stress can actually make them physically ill, causing headaches, stomach problems, or even more serious conditions like heart disease or muscle spasms. When you are feeling stressed, you may notice that you have a short temper and that frustration has become more common in your life. Stress can make it harder to sleep, and it can leave you feeling tired and out of energy most of the time. Stress can also make it harder to think clearly and solve problems. For example, someone who is stressed may find it harder to concentrate on their schoolwork or other tasks they have to complete.
Chronic Stress Responses
When stress becomes a chronic condition, then psychological and physical disorders like anxiety, depression, and autoimmune disorders may occur. People who experience anxiety, for example, may notice that it becomes more extreme when faced with real or imagined threats. They may also have trouble with social situations, or their fear may get in the way of pursuing a career or personal goals. When stress is chronic, it is almost always accompanied by depression. Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness that can last for days or even weeks. It can also bring about feelings of worthlessness and guilt, as well as a loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable.
The Dark Side of Stress
Sadness, anxiety, and irritability can all be part of normal human experiences. It’s when people feel consistently depressed or anxious that they need help — and often they require counseling or therapy. The negative effects of stress can be severe and even fatal, especially when the stress occurs in combination with other mental or physical ailments that already exist. Stress, anxiety, and depression can also exacerbate the symptoms of other conditions — such as asthma, migraine headaches, diabetes, and arthritis. People who have illnesses such as these often deal with increased levels of stress that can cause the symptoms of their illnesses to get worse.
How to recognize stress in your body
Stress can cause physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches. Stress can cause mental symptoms, such as anxiety, forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating. Stress can also lead to emotional distress, with feelings of sadness or worry being common examples of this type of reaction to stressors in your life.
The first and foremost step is to recognize increased stress levels in yourself. Once you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, you can take one or more of the following steps to reduce your stress levels.
1. Take time away from everything
When you're feeling overwhelmed, take a break from your daily responsibilities and think about the big picture. Think about the things that are going well in your life, and focus on those positives instead of dwelling on what could go wrong or has gone wrong in the past. You can't change what has happened in the past, so don't let it get in the way of how you see yourself moving forward! Think about what is within your control and focus only on that.
2. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust
If you're feeling stressed, it's important to avoid becoming isolated from others. Isolation can lead to depression and other negative feelings that can make your stress worse. Try to keep in touch with friends and family members who are supportive of you through this difficult time in your life. If they live far away, consider taking advantage of technology such as Skype or FaceTime so that you don't feel alone when talking on the phone or video chatting with them!
If possible, join a support group for people who are going through similar experiences as well (e.g., those who have lost loved ones). You may find comfort just knowing there are others out there going through similar challenges!
Talking about your feelings with someone you trust is one of the best ways to cope with stress and anxiety. It's important to be honest with yourself, but it's also important that you are honest with others as well. If something is bothering you, don't hide it from others; instead, talk about it!
Talking about your feelings can help relieve some of the pressure that comes from having those feelings bottled up inside of you. When we express ourselves verbally rather than keeping our emotions bottled up inside us or repressing them our minds become clearer and freer from negative thoughts and emotions such as guilt or shame. This allows us more room in which to think clearly and calmly while also giving us a sense of relief knowing that someone else knows what's going on in our heads at any given time.
If you don’t have anyone around you to share your feelings with, try journaling your thoughts. The ideal way to journal is in the form of free flowing writing, with no goal in mind, just spilling your thoughts and emotions onto the paper.
3. Take care of your body
In order to lower your stress levels, it is important to get enough sleep. Ideally aim for at least 7 hours of sleeping each and every night. If you want to find out how much proper sleep is beneficial for each of us, make sure to read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
Exercise regularly, but don't overdo it. If you find yourself feeling anxious or stressed out after working out, take a break from exercising for a while and try again later when the mood is more relaxed.
Eat healthy foods that are high in protein and fiber. It's important to eat enough food so that you don't feel hungry, but don't overeat. Try not to skip meals or snacks--it's important for your body to get all of the nutrients it needs throughout the day!
4. Breathe to lower your stress levels
Breathing exercises are a great way to calm your body and mind and thus reduce your stress and anxiety. It is important to always use your diaphragm to breathe deeply and fully.
There are many useful breathing patterns:
- One of the best breathing patterns is 5.5 second breathing: 5.5 second inhale followed by 5.5 second exhale with no pauses. Inhale and exhale through your nose.
- Another useful pattern is 4-4-4-4 pattern: 4 second inhale, followed by breath hold of 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 seconds with another 4 second pause before inhaling. Again, inhale and exhale through your nose
- 4-7-8-0 pattern for better sleep: 4 seconds inhale through nose, 7 seconds breath hold, and 8 second exhale through your mouth with a whoosh sound. This breathing pattern is particularly useful when you struggle falling asleep, try it before bed for better sleep.
Try one of these patterns for at least 5 minutes to experience immediate changes in your stress levels.
5. Mental techniques that help with lowering stress levels
Relaxation techniques such as meditation or hypnosis can all help reduce stress levels. Meditation and hypnosis are two great ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Both methods can help you relax and find inner peace.
Meditation to reduce your stress
Meditation is a form of mental training that helps you focus your thoughts. If you've never tried meditation or hypnosis before, here's what you should know:
Meditation involves sitting quietly with eyes closed while focusing on breathing or repeating certain words (=mantras) in your mind - like "calm" or "peace". It's been shown to reduce stress levels by lowering blood pressure and heart rate; improving immune system function; reducing pain; decreasing anxiety; increasing self-esteem; increasing creativity; improving mood control over emotions such as anger/frustration/depression/sadness/joyfulness...the list goes on! But remember: like any new skill set that takes time practice before becoming proficient at it--so don't get discouraged if it doesn't work immediately! Start slow with simply sitting quietly each day until eventually building up enough mental stamina to be able to cope with demands of day to day life.
Hypnosis to manage your stress responses
The main thing to remember is that: it's not just about becoming more aware of your thoughts but also how we can use them in a positive way instead of negative one! For example: if you're having a bad day and feeling extremely stressed out then there are ways to deal with it that don't involve picking up a cigarette or drinking alcohol. That’s when hypnosis comes in. Hypnosis is a state of heightened suggestibility and can be self-induced (=self-hypnosis – link) or you can become hypnotized assisted by someone else. In hypnosis, we can choose what we want to focus on and offer our brain and unconscious mind new alternatives how to cope with stress and anxiety. By introducing new alternatives and practicing them beforehand, these can become second nature for us, so that when we experience increased stress levels, we can rely on our new choices and behave in a more empowered way.
Experiment what works for you
These are just some of the ways you can manage stress and anxiety. Everybody is different, so some approaches might be more effective for some people than for others. There are many ways how to reduce your stress levels and get rid of anxiety and stress. As soon as you find yourself experiencing increased stress levels, experiment with one or more of these ways and we are sure you will reduce your stress and anxiety in no time!