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Managing and Channeling Your Stress


After spending the last couple of years with uncertain health outcomes for ourselves and our loved ones, stress can feel like a near-constant part of life. We may have grown used to this new normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best for our health. Learning more about stress can help us better anticipate our own needs when the going gets tough—before our bodies beg us for a break.

What is Stress?

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension that comes from a trigger – an event or thought – that frustrates you, angers you or makes you nervous. With the aid of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, our bodies react physically to these moments of demand. The “fight or flight” response that constitutes stress is a normal part of life, and can sometimes even be healthy. If you’ve pulled an all-nighter to finish a high-stakes project or swerved to avoid a car accident on the highway, you’ve experienced the positive effects of stress. If stress lasts for too long without periods of relaxation, however, it can cause physical wear and tear on the body.

Stress can be acute or chronic. Acute stress, which is short-term and goes away quickly, helps us handle dangerous situations or new and exciting experiences. Chronic stress, however, lasts for a longer period of time. It can result from stressors weeks or months in the making, such as sudden life changes, natural disasters, financial struggles, or other troubles at home, work or school. Since long-term stress comes from a more constant source, your body never receives the signal to return back to normal. Sometimes we get so used to stress that we don’t realize that we have it.

Stress and Your Body 

Because stress is both emotional and physical, it can worsen pre-existing health conditions and create others entirely. For instance, if you experience stress, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression or anxiety, obesity, skin problems like acne or eczema, or menstrual cycle irregularities. A few more specific physical consequences of stress include:

  • Cardiovascular problems. During a stress response, your blood vessels constrict and blood pressure rises. An increased heart rate and high blood pressure can damage arteries, which could lead to heart attack. 
  • Type 2 diabetes. Stress causes your liver to release extra sugar into your bloodstream, raising your blood glucose levels over time.
  • Weakened immune system. Stress weakens your body’s ability to fight off invaders. People under stress are more susceptible to viruses and take longer to recover from illnesses or injuries.
  • Muscle tension. Stress causes muscles to tense, which can lead to tension-related headaches and backaches.
  • Digestive issues. As a result of an increase in stomach acid, you’re more likely to have heartburn or acid reflux if you’re stressed. You may also develop stomach ulcers or irritate the ones you already have. Because stress interferes with the process of digestion, you might experience diarrhea, constipation, nausea or vomiting during especially tense periods.

Signs You May Be Stressed

Any of the physical symptoms listed above may be signs you’re stressed, but others include:

  • Trouble sleeping, either too much or too little
  • Headaches
  • Stiff jaw or neck
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss or gain, with undereating or overeating
  • Substance abuse or dependency
  • Mood swings 
  • Anxiety and irritability

Tips for Managing & Channeling Your Stress 

The most important step in managing stress is identifying your triggers. Get intentional, and ask yourself: what’s making you stressed? Is your stress chronic or acute? Where can you build intentional recovery periods into your schedule? If it’s safe for you to do so, talk to those you spend the most time with if they’ve noticed any changes in your behavior. Being proactive in understanding your triggers can help you manage your symptoms before you feel out of control.

Other effective ways to manage stress include:
  • Staying socially connected to receive support from others
  • Eating well and exercising – walking for just 30 minutes per day can boost your mood, and your body will handle stress much more healthily when you eat nutritious foods.
  • Sleeping for 7-8 hours per night on a regular schedule
  • Taking a weekend to declutter a space that may be a source of anxiety
  • Minimizing use of caffeine and alcohol
  • Journaling
  • Sharing responsibilities with others if your plate is too full
  • Practicing mindfulness – if meditation alone doesn’t work, add a physical element, such as yoga
  • Thinking about what self care means to you, and making time for intentional rest and relaxation
  • Making an appointment with a doctor or therapist

When in Doubt, Seek Treatment

If your stress makes you feel unable to function or you think of harming yourself or others, don’t hesitate to call a professional! Your doctor can help, and a licensed mental health professional can give you the tools you need to manage your stress sustainably.