What is Stress and How to Reduce it?

Mar 5, 2024 | Blog

How many times per day do you hear the word “stress”? It’s a familiar word for most of us, used so often in so many different contexts that its true impact is sometimes dismissed.

In reality, stress is far more than just the feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s a complex response, triggered by our bodies and our minds when faced by excessive challenges, demands, or changes. By understanding the nature of stress, its effects on mental health, and some practical strategies to manage it, you can make a difference in your mental wellbeing.

Understanding Stress

Stress is a natural human response. When we encounter situations that require us to either adapt or react, our bodies release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, preparing us to face the challenge. This response, also known as the “fight-or-flight” response, can be helpful in the short term in situations of serious danger– but when activated for extended periods, it can take a toll on our mental and physical health.

The Impact of Stress on Mental Health

While occasional stress is normal, chronic stress can significantly impact our mental wellbeing. Prolonged exposure to stress can contribute to various mental health conditions, including:

  • Anxiety: Constant worry and feeling overwhelmed. Anxiety may manifest mentally or physically, causing issues like rapid heartbeat or even panic attacks.
  • Depression: Feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, and changes in sleep or appetite.
  • Mood Disorders: Rapid mood swings and difficulty regulating emotions.
  • Burnout: Exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced effectiveness in work or relationships.

Recognizing and addressing stress early is a must to prevent these long-term consequences. You may find it helpful to pay attention to your body’s signals, like fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, and changes in sleep patterns. These could be signs that stress is taking a toll.

What is Stress and How to Reduce it?

Strategies for Stress Reduction

There are multiple ways to manage stress to help you feel calmer and enhance your general wellbeing.

Some basic methods that we’d recommend:

Deep Breathing: Focus on slow, steady breaths to calm your nervous system. It may help to try a technique known as “box breathing”. To do this, breathe in while slowly counting to four. Hold your breath for four seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth for four seconds. Repeating this process can help to regulate stress hormones in your body in addition to helping you refocus your mind on something other than stress.

Meditation: Meditation is a way to quiet your mind and train your focus to increase your ability to relax. To start meditating as a beginner, find a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes. Sit in a relaxed position, in a chair or on the floor, with your back straight and your hands in your lap. Close your eyes, or keep them softly focused on a point in front of you. Try to just notice the rising and falling of your chest and the feeling of air moving in and out of your nostrils. If your mind wanders, that’s okay– just bring your attention gently back to your breath.

Trying to meditate for just a few minutes a day can help to reduce stress and can manage many other mental health issues as well, like anxiety.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Try to tense and release different muscle groups to release physical tension.

You may also benefit from a few lifestyle modifications. Making it a point to get regular exercise is helpful for managing stress. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosters. Getting adequate sleep (seven to eight hours per night) and a healthy diet can also make a big difference.

Building Resilience and Coping

Prioritizing self-care and engaging in activities you enjoy can make you more resilient to stressors in your life on a daily basis. Stress management is an ongoing process, and empowering yourself with knowledge and practical tools can equip you to navigate challenges with greater ease, enhancing your overall wellbeing.

Seeking professional counseling is a great way to build healthy coping mechanisms for stress and other mental health struggles. If you’d like to get started with Chenal Family Therapy, find a location near you and reach out to schedule an appointment!