Stress is a physical reaction your body goes through when a challenging or unpleasant situation arises. Stressors are the things that spark that physical reaction. A stressor could be anything from an uncomfortable social interaction to a challenging financial situation.
Every person has different stressors in their life. Some people feel the most stressed in their work life, while others experience more stressors at home. Stress can be part of a healthy life as long as it is managed properly.
Chronic unmanaged stress often leads people to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, unhealthy coping strategies often increase stress in the long term. Learning to identify stressors is one of the most essential parts of building a mentally healthy life. So how can you learn to recognize which things in your life are causing you stress?
Because stress is a physical reaction, many physical signs can alert you of your stressors. Some common physical symptoms of stress are headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension, and a racing heart.
When you notice the physical symptoms of stress, think about the environment you’re in and if there are any possible stressors. If you’re still unsure what caused the stress, think about other times you’ve experienced the same physical symptoms. If you can identify any similarities between those moments and your current situation, you may be able to identify the source of the stress.
Stress also causes many emotional symptoms. When life gets busy, though, many people don’t think about how they’re feeling emotionally. This can result in built-up stress that you’re unaware of until it’s reached an overwhelming level.
Checking in with yourself often allows you to be aware of your emotional state, making it easier to identify stressors. Take time each day to reflect on what you’re feeling. If you notice you’re feeling angry, sad, overwhelmed, or anxious, reflect on what happened during the day to identify any possible stressors.
In addition to the physical and emotional signs of stress, our behavior can also notify us that we need to better manage stress. If you’ve suddenly deprioritized sleep, stopped exercising, or stopped eating nutritiously, you may be developing unhealthy coping mechanisms for unmanaged stress. A loss of interest in hobbies or socialization can also signify you’re under too much stress.
If you’ve taken up unhealthy habits like gambling, excessive drinking, or drug abuse, there may be an underlying stressor that you need to address so you won’t have to rely on unhealthy habits to cope.
Once you’ve recognized your stressors, you can manage your stress levels by keeping a few stress relief techniques on hand. Whenever you experience a stressor, you should set aside time in your day to do your preferred stress-relieving activity.
If you know you’ll experience a major stressor in a day, you can practice stress-relieving techniques in advance. For example, some people find holidays very stressful, so they prepare beforehand. Here are a few stress relief techniques that can help you keep your stress at a healthy level.
Mindfulness meditation is an effective technique that many people have used to calm their bodies after experiencing a stressor. This type of meditation allows you to focus on the present moment and minimize negative or anxious thoughts.
To practice mindfulness meditation, find a quiet place to sit still for five to ten minutes. Focus on your breathing and the sensations in your body. As thoughts arise, don’t try to push them away or follow them to the next thought. Instead, simply take note of each thought that passes through your mind and then return your focus to your breathing and your body.
After experiencing a stressor, our bodies respond like they are in danger, which is why many of the physical symptoms of stress occur. Deep breathing is a great way to inform your body that you are safe, and there’s no need for extra muscle tension or an elevated heart rate.
One of the most simple deep breathing exercises involves breathing in for four slow counts and breathing out for four slow counts. Repeat for one to two minutes, or until you can feel some of your muscles start to relax.
Many studies have found exercise to have a significant impact on reducing stress. Whether it's aerobic exercise, lifting weights, or yoga, moving your body can help you release some of the pent-up energy that comes with too much stress.
Exercise also produces dopamine and endorphins which are chemicals in the body that give you a pleasurable feeling. The mood-boost you receive after exercising can help counteract some of the negative emotions caused by the stressors in your life.
Journaling helps many people relieve stress because, similar to meditation, it can slow down your thoughts and help you focus on one moment at a time. After experiencing a stressor, many people have difficulty getting their thoughts away from the stressor. Because they continue to think about the stressful experience, the physical and emotional response to it lasts longer.
Journaling can help you reflect on an experience, process it, and move on to other thoughts. Try keeping a journal near you so you can spend a few moments writing out your thoughts and de-stressing any time a stressor occurs.
When you’re feeling stressed, speaking with friends and family members can help you process your feelings. In some cases, it’s best to speak with a professional who knows how to support you as you cope with your stressors.
If you or someone close to you has turned to substance abuse to manage stress, it can be very difficult to break the cycle of abuse. A medical professional can help you or your loved one break the addiction and replace the substance use with healthy coping mechanisms. Jackson House can help you determine the best treatment plan for recovering from an addiction and managing your mental health.