Stress (the other S word)
Long-term, chronic stress has many negative effects on the physical body. Most people are familiar with the physical signs- headaches, stomach aches, not being able to sleep, weight gain or loss, etc. This is pretty much old news. But what about the effects on your mental health? We now know that stress can negatively affect your mental health in many ways, from increased anxiety and depression, lowered cognitive functioning, increased hyper-vigilance and arousal (similar to PTSD responses), and lowered self-confidence and self-worth.
There is no doubt that some stress can be good- even motivating. Stress can give us that extra adrenaline before a presentation at work or before a big sporting event. It can give us a drive to get stuff done and finally stop procrastinating. This is the good stress; the type our bodies can handle in small doses. The bad stress (that we will be focusing on in this article) is the long term, chronic, cumulative stuff that increases the stress hormones in your body for an extended period of time. The bad stress is the stress that lasts for days, weeks, months, or even years.
There are many situations that can cause long term stress that can be dangerous both physically and mentally. Here are just a few:
Divorce or separation
Losing a job
The loss of a relationship (intimate, social, or familial)
Death or serious illness
Losing a pet
External pressure to perform at school or work
And many more….
All of these stressful conditions can lead to decreased self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth as an individual loses confidence that he or she can complete tasks on time, on their own, and to perform at the high expectations of others. It can also lead to the disbelief that one is capable- of anything. Believing that you are incapable of accomplishing tasks can be very detrimental to your mental health, and can sometimes even lead to depression, loneliness, isolation, and thoughts of suicide. Chronic stress can cause you to feel overwhelmed, powerless, and that you cannot change your current situation.
Stress at work can lead to trouble in relationships or at home. Stress from conflicts in a relationship can cause decreased production and concentration at work, and therefore increased financial stress and worrying about job security and acceptance of others. One things leads to the next. Before you know it, you’re looking at cumulative, chronic stress.
So what can be done about this?
The first answer is therapy. The act of talking to a trusted, safe, accepting, and nonjudgmental person is proven to decrease stress. A therapist can help put things into perspective and offer new ways of looking at stressful situations. Talking about an issue out loud also helps you formulate new insights on your own and come up with new solutions of which you were previously unaware.
We also know that hearing from other people that have experienced similar situations can be helpful. For this, we recommend group therapy. Participating in a group and knowing that you are not alone in your struggle can help tremendously- even if you choose not to share your story with the group. The act of listening to others can offer new perspective to your own situation.
Another positive solution that we love at HeadFirst is physical activity, preferably outdoors. Physical movement dramatically lowers stress even in small 10-15 minute doses. Exercise helps because it distracts you and takes your mind off of what is causing you stress. Repetitive movements (such as walking, swimming, stair climbing, running, etc.) also release serotonin in the brain- the “feel good” hormone that helps you calm down and self-regulate. With all that new serotonin floating around in your body, you will begin to feel more relaxed and lower your stress.
We understand that everyone is busy, and there is no need to dedicate a whole hour (or more) to going to the gym. A 15-minute brisk walk outside can help lower stress and is good for your physical health. Being outside is an added bonus as the sunshine and fresh air helps soothe your senses and in turn decreases stress.
Other helpful techniques include meditation, mindfulness, physical touch and hugging (more of those “feel good” hormones released), reading, listening to music- whatever soothes you!
Think your stress may be verging on chronic or getting to be too much? Contact HeadFirst at (469) 665-9416 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and set up an intake session with a therapist. We can help you regain control over your stress and begin to feel like your normal, happy self again.
Sometimes you just need someone to talk to, and we’re here for that.