Sweaty palms, a racing heart, shortness of breath, nightmares—stressful events can put your body and mind in a tailspin. Over time, chronic stress even contributes to health issues like heart disease, obesity, gastrointestinal problems and depression.
Fortunately, you can combat stress. To develop stress-fighting strategies, it helps to understand the three types of stress. Acute stress is what most people deal with regularly. It’s the feeling that comes from a sudden jolt, such as an unexpected loud noise, but it can also result from emotions heightened by an argument or other intense personal interaction. Acute stress is the type of stress that triggers a fight-or-flight response that can keep you safe.
Episodic stress, however, is a type of acute stress that people can bring on themselves by having a negative outlook or unrealistic expectations. Those who struggle with episodic stress tend to worry excessively and may feel like they’re frequently running behind or on the edge of a crisis. Chronic stress can result from the accumulation of stressful life events or situations like family conflicts, a troubled marriage or an unhappy work situation. The impact of chronic stress can trigger a range of serious physical or mental problems.
What’s bothering you?
Everyone experiences stress, but we may be triggered by different things. Recognizing your stressors can help you gain control over them. Not sure what yours are? Take a moment to jot down things that cause you to feel anxious, angry, sad or irritated, as well as those that trigger symptoms like headaches, muscle tension or an upset stomach.
Here are a few examples of common stressors:
- Emotions—Fear of failure, sense of helplessness, pessimism
- Finances—Poverty, loss of work, unexpected bills
- Social interaction—Loss of friends, meeting new people, dating
- Change—Moving, switching jobs, kids leaving or returning home
- Family relationships—Marital problems, conflicts with siblings or adult children
- Phobias—Flying, being in tight or crowded spaces, germs
- Disease—Managing chronic conditions, dealing with a disability or a sudden illness
- Environment—Noise, heat, cold, pollution
- Physical conditions—Fatigue, pain, poor diet, sedentary habits
Once you’ve identified what causes you the most angst, try these steps to minimize stress.
Set priorities to address triggering events, such as financial challenges, upcoming deadlines or major decisions.
Get enough sleep
Being well-rested can provide a sense of balance and clarity to help you deal with stressful situations and feelings.
Take “me” time
Stepping away from your troubles by visualizing a peaceful place, listening to soothing music, reading a good book or meditating on a nature walk can be a big help.
Keep a journal
Writing about stressful situations can make it easier to figure out ways to handle them effectively.
Keep in touch with supportive people and ask for help when you feel overwhelmed.
Sometimes stress can be too tough to manage on your own. When do-it yourself methods aren’t working, a psychologist or trained counselor can help you navigate through stressful situations to a healthier, happier life.