Stress is part of life. It is a healthy response that allows you to rise to the occasion. If you were a caveman, you might have appreciated the stress response if you were out hunting and found yourself face to face with a bear. Your stress response fight or flight response would give you the wherewithal to flee without stopping to think (and give the bear a chance to attack).
The stress response, also known as the "fight or flight" response, is also important in today's world. You may not need to fight bears too often, but you still need the extra focus and energy you get in a stress response. It can come in handy when...
Taking an exam.
Giving a presentation at work.
Getting all of your tasks done on a busy day.
Hosting a party or celebration.
Ideally, the stress response gives you a surge of energy and some laser focus so you can charge through the task. Once you are finished, the adrenaline and other stress hormones return to low levels, and all is well again.
Effects of Chronic Stress
Well, that would be nice, but real life offers constant sources of stress! Common daily stressors include receiving too many emails to handle, having a longer commute than you'd like, arguing with someone, or feeling rushed most of the time. These stressors also trigger the stress response, and keep it going. The result is chronic stress.
You may already be familiar with many of the effects of too much stress. You may notice anxiety, a short temper, increased heart rate, and trouble sleeping. You could have headaches or stomach pain, or struggle to complete your regular job well. Long-term, people who report feeling stressed on a daily basis are more likely to have chronic conditions such as heart disease, upper respiratory infections, and increased joint pain in arthritis.
Eliminating versus Managing Stress
You cannot eliminate sources of stress. Nor would you want to, presumably, when you consider that some of the top sources of stress are positive, for example, getting married, being pregnant, and buying a home.
You also cannot avoid the stress response, and again, that is a good thing. It lets you succeed at life's challenges and other events. For example, the stress response lets you get your children to school in the morning with their lunches and homework while you finalize vacation arrangements and arrive at work for a presentation before visiting your parents at a retirement home. Accomplishing all that requires concentration and energy.
Rather than eliminating stressors or stress, you can manage them. If you can make peace with stress, you can make it work for you instead of against you.
Making Peace with Your Stress
You can have a lot of control over your stress simply by controlling how you perceive it. Think of it positively, and you may benefit from it. Furthermore, if you can avoid unnecessary stress, and you may find that life gets easier.
Avoid unnecessary stress. While "running away" from important things is not the answer, avoiding less-meaningful stressors can help overall. You can often limit your interactions with people who stress you out, or at least limit conversation to neutral topics. When life gets too busy, do only the essential chores, and postpone ones that are not urgent.
De-stress your environment. Try to spend more time in places you enjoy, such as walking in a park instead of on a treadmill if the outdoors makes you happier, or eating lunch with friends on a bench instead of at your desk. You can also alter your environments to make them more relaxing. For example, you can personalize a cubicle with photos or art you love, and listen to music through earbuds while working. If your commute in traffic is stressful, try to drive at a less-crowded time or take a different route to work, and listen to music or an audio book to pass the time.
Accept your stress. You have to go to work, pay the bills, take care of the kids, and clean the house. Smile! Okay, you may not actually be smiling while you are chopping onions in preparation for dinner, but accepting that these are your stressors can actually make them feel less stressful. This can be especially true for a health condition such as prediabetes, which requires healthy eating and physical activity to lower diabetes risk, and can be managed more easily when you accept and even embrace the chance to live more healthfully.
Get over it. This goes for yourself and for others. For yourself, accept that you are not perfect, and love yourself for your mistakes. Believe it or not, you will become more perfect (although you will never be perfect), and you will feel less pressure to be perfect, and less guilt and remorse if you make a mistake. Towards others, do not hold a grudge. Forgive them if they offend, and don't let them bother you. You cannot control them, so do not worry about them.
Healthy Stress Management
You can also manage your stress better when you save some time for yourself. With that time, you might:
Read a newspaper, magazine, or book
Phone a friend
Take a bubble bath
Watch a movie
Get a massage
Cook a healthy meal
Unhealthy Stress Management Techniques
By the way, stress management is not always healthy. Here are some unhealthy strategies…
Using pills or drugs to relax.
Watching TV or playing video games for hours on end.
Overfilling your schedule to avoid your thoughts.
(We do not recommend these methods)
"Stress" does not need to be a bad word. You can take charge of your stress and turn it into a helpful and healthy part of your life. Embrace it and make peace with it, and you may find yourself happier and healthier.
Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.