When you stress out, how do you feel? A better question is what do you feel? Do you feel your heart beating faster, your stomach turning, or even your mind feeling exhausted and overwhelmed?
Stress is not always a bad thing. You’ve probably heard people talk about eustress aka the good stress and distress, which most agree is a bad stress. Stress affects your body from a psychological and physiological standpoint. Too much stress can have negative effects on your physical and mental health. But just a little bit of good stress can help you perform better, help your motivation, and get you more excited. Good stress can come from events such as starting a new job, going on a date, moving to a new location, and even going on vacation. These events are seen as good stress, but what happens if the good stress turns into bad stress or distress? This is something that most of us have experienced.
Right before Christmas, my significant other and I flew back to the East Coast to visit family. We also brought our two cats, one of which we’d never traveled with, and the other we knew had anxiety about traveling. As we prepped for our trip even weeks in advance, I grew increasingly anxious. I stressed about how the cats would react to being in the cabin with us and if they would meow loudly and disturb people around us. There were so many more thoughts that came into my head prior to our travel dates that made me anxious about traveling with them. I started having anxiety dreams about our planned trip, I began preparing for every possible scenario, and I repeatedly wrote notes of things to pack for them for the flight as a “just in case”. After speaking to a friend, I realized there were many things out of my control. I knew that deep down, but then, she mentioned that the cats would pick up on my emotions and feelings, which in turn, could affect their temperament. I had to be calm and for the most part stress-free. I had eustress that turned into distress.
When we turn eustress into distress, we make our bodies work harder. When we feel threated (physically, emotionally, etc.), our body reacts and we get the stress response. Some common symptoms of this response are muscles tightening, breathing quickens, and heart rate increases. Here’s the thing. The stress response (fight, flight or freeze response) is happening more often than it should. We are stressing our bodies more every day, which puts our body into this constant stress response mode, which can affect mental health, immune system, and especially, our cardiovascular system. While our bodies are in constant stress mode, it puts more strain on our other systems in our body, and that affects our overall health and wellbeing.
Enough about the bad effects of stress. What can you do to help yourself lessen the amount of time your body is spending in a stress response? There are many answers including exercise, meditation, spending time with friends and/or pets, reading a book, and taking a walk. When I stress, my mind races and it’s hard to stay focused. My solution is to find ways to clear my head. The past couple days at work, I’ve been taking a 15-20min walk with a co-worker on our lunch breaks. We get a change of scenery from the office cubicles, fresh air, sunshine, and a chance to get the brain thinking in a more creative way. This helps alleviate any stress that either of us has about our work, life, relationships, etc.
Are you a person who uses passive or active coping strategies? Passive coping strategies, such as watching tv, stress eating, or browsing the Internet, might be a temporary release from thinking about your stress, but those strategies don’t always help alleviate the stress. Instead, try using active coping strategies like taking a walk, meditation, and improving on skills you already have.What helps you during times of stress? I challenge you to find more active ways to cope with stress. Try something new, get out of your comfort zone, and let’s learn how to stress less!