We all want to lead healthy, happy lives. What this looks like for you, in particular, may vary drastically to someone else, but the end goal is the same: happiness and contentedness. One of the biggest obstacles getting in your way isn’t a lack of something, but instead in the presence of stress in yourself. If you can learn how to identify sources of your stress and then take active steps toward managing your stress, you could immediately start leading a more fulfilling life.
Stress may be a natural part of life, but episodic acute stress and chronic stress can cause massive health issues and be disastrous for your wellbeing. This is particularly true for those within compassion roles. Nurses and social workers, for example, need to not only do the job they are paid for they are also one of the primary people there to provide support and compassion to others.
Caring for others and having your work contingent on their outcome is massively stressful. Even if you don’t have the risk of compassion fatigue, however, burnout can impact everyone. By understanding stress, the types of stress, and also what stress can cause in the body, you can then start work on mitigating your stress and reducing your stress outright.
What is Stress?
We all understand stress as an emotion, as that is thinning out sensation when you have too much on your plate and not enough time to do it. Stress comes from many triggers and many different situations. You can be stressed about getting to work or school on time, stressed about doing well, stressed about making ends meet, and even stressed on behalf of someone else.
In general, there are three types of stress.
- Acute Stress
- Episodic Acute Stress
- Chronic Stress
Regular acute stress is often nothing to worry about simply because it happens once or a few times, and then it doesn’t come back. Perhaps you are moving. This could cause acute stress that will end once the move is completed. Episodic acute stress occurs regularly due to your routine. Many people experience episodic acute stress at work, for example. Chronic stress, however, is when your body just cannot catch a break. There is no in-between, no downtime, just a stressful situation you cannot escape from. If you are worried about how you will cover next month’s rent, or someone in our family is in the hospital, then this could result in chronic stress.
Stress Statistics to Keep in Mind
If you feel like you have been less able to manage stress in recent years, don’t worry. You are not alone. Between the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the subsequent rising cost of living, many are feeling the pressure. The American Institute of Stress has reported shocking findings for 2022, with 55% of Americans claiming that they feel stressed during their day. 57% of respondents state that stress paralyzes them, and 97% of all workers state that work causes them acute or chronic stress.
What is The Science Behind Stress?
Stress is a survival response, but it is not one that is meant to be endured in an ongoing capacity. When you are in a stressful situation, you need your body and brain to work in a higher gear. To help with this, your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone. Once released, your blood sugar will increase, and adrenaline will increase in your heart rate. Oxygen will even fill your muscles and cause tension. You are ready for fight or flight.Of course, in the modern world, these two options are rarely acceptable courses of action. This means we endure stress more often, more commonly, and for longer.
It is important to note that it takes up to 90 minutes for the body to reset and calm down after a cortisol spike. If you are chronically stressed or experience episodic acute stress, meaning you are enduring lower levels of stress over prolonged periods of time or high levels of stress frequently, then you will experience more severe and more concerning health issues.
What Does Cortisol Do Over Time?
Cortisol is one of those hormones where too much is never a good thing. Prolonged spikes or an ongoing release of cortisol can result in these complications:
1. Increase Cardiovascular Risks
Ongoing stress and acute stress alike can both raise blood pressure and, in turn, increase the risk of clots forming in the arteries. This increases your risk of a stroke or a heart attack. High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can also damage the arteries, resulting in an aneurysm, can impair cognitive function, damage your kidneys, damage your eyes, and so much more.
2. Change Brain Chemistry
Those experiencing chronic stress may find themselves suffering from comorbid conditions such as an anxiety disorder or depression. These, naturally, worsen your ability to handle and manage stress and can send you into a negative spiral that will require a multi-pronged approach to start addressing. Physical, mental, and emotional help will be necessary from both medical and holistic standpoints.
3. Result in Sleep Disorders
Stress puts your body in a heightened state. Your body is tensed, adrenaline is coursing through you, and your mind often races. All three make it difficult to sleep and stay asleep and, as a result, can cause difficulty sleeping all the way to full sleep disorders. A lack of sleep in and of itself is incredibly stressful on the body and typically results in reduced bodily and cognitive function that no amount of healthy eating, exercise, or even caffeine can replicate.
4. Premature Aging
Stress will even take a toll on your looks. Stress can result in hair turning white briefly and can result in an increase in acne and other skin issues. Your skin, nails, and hair may appear dull and lackluster, with rough skin and an uneven skin tone.
This happens because cortisol restricts blood supply to the skin, where it is of least use in your fight-or-flight situation. Over time this reduces the skin, hair, and nail hydration and also limits cell turnover. High blood pressure can also damage collagen, resulting in wrinkles. Stress has also been known to restrict hair growth, which over time could even result in hair loss.
Overall there are many ways that stress may be behind all your beauty woes. By addressing your stress and working to counteract your own body’s response, you can refresh your appearance and feel more confident in no time.
How to Reduce Stress
Being aware of what stress can do to the body can help you identify the cause of your health and beauty concerns. Working to actually minimize the stress you experience, however, is an entirely different matter.
· Identify the Sources of Your Stress
The best place to start, regardless of what you do or who you are, is working to identify the triggers. Knowing and being aware of the pressure points that result in stress, especially acute or chronic stress, can help you strategize accordingly. The sources of your stress may come from surprising sources, and similarly, you may think that something is a trigger for stress, only to realize later it was poor health or poor sleep that was the main cause.
Keeping a journal can be a great way for you to start categorizing moments of stress. Whenever you start to feel stressed, write down what happened just before. This applies to any extreme negative emotion, including anxiety. Over time you will be able to see clear patterns and then be able to work out a solution.
· Improve Your Baseline Health
Working on improving your health and wellbeing with some of the best self-care tips for essential workers, especially in compassionate roles like social work, is another excellent step. A healthy body is one that can manage stress far easier without being sent into overdrive. When it comes to health, of course, routine is one of the best secret ingredients to focus on. One healthy meal isn’t going to drastically improve your health or your mood. Eating healthy every day, on the other hand, can result in massive improvements in all areas of your life.
· Address Your Stress
If healthy living isn’t enough, however, then it is important that you address the sources of your stress directly. In some cases, you may want to avoid the trigger. In other cases, you may need to change your routine, and in other cases, you may need to negotiate. This could mean changing your responsibilities at work, changing jobs, or hiring extra support services if you can afford it.
· Seek Professional Guidance
If you find that still isn’t enough and that you are triggered into a stress response to events that shouldn’t cause stress, then professional mental health services can help you learn how to break out of those negative thought cycles.
You may need to seek out professional mental health services, for example, if the stress trigger is actually something deeply rooted. You may get extremely stressed and anxious at any criticism, for example, even when it is helpful and comes from a good place. By working with a mental health professional, you may be able to identify when this started and work on strategies to stop taking helpful criticism so personally and to learn to move past mean-spirited criticism as well.