Long travels, packed meeting schedules, busy family life, even politics – there’s plenty that can raise your stress levels this time of the year. So, how do you make it through without sending your blood pressure through the roof? Gretchen Diem, Ph.D., and Shelly Komondoros, Ph.D., health psychologists at UnityPoint Health, help you recognize your body’s stress response, as well as offer tips for how to reduce stress in your everyday life.
Signs of Stress
Stress is an automatic response triggered by our bodies and is important for our survival, but if it continues over a long period of time, it can negatively impact our health.
“Stress is the body’s automatic physical reaction to events that require behavioral adjustments,” Dr. Komondoros says. “It’s important to remember if your body’s stress response continues for too long it can cause health problems, due to its effects on the cardiovascular system, immune system and nervous system.”
Common signs of stress include:
- Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
- Upset stomach, loss of appetite or overeating “comfort foods”
- Dry mouth or anxiety
- Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty falling, staying asleep and fatigue
- Short temper, irritability
“Developing self-awareness and recognizing when your body needs extra care is essential. Most likely, you intuitively know how you react to stressful situations, so when things aren’t going your way, or you feel like you are losing control or are overwhelmed, pay attention and tune in to your body,” Dr. Komondoros says.
Stress Relief Activities
Recognizing you’re stressed is one thing, but stress management is another. Dr. Diem lists these 8 tips to reduce stress:
- Put yourself first. Check in with yourself a couple times a day. Ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do right now to take better care of myself, physically and emotionally?”
- Keep things in perspective. Try to respond to any mishaps with compassion and grace. The greatest gift you can give yourself is to be at peace with your circumstances.
- Prioritize. Make a list of events and projects, prioritizing those that are most meaningful. Selectively choose the activities that are most satisfying for you and your family.
- Stick to your budget. If you’re worried about your wallet, be realistic about what you can afford. Create a budget and stick to it.
- Use technology to help you relax and be mindful. Although there are many ways technology triggers stress, it also offers many supportive and portable tools to reduce stress and promote well-being. Several free stress relief apps can help you practice mindfulness, including Headspace, Smiling Mind, Calm and others.
- Breathe! It sounds so simple, but we often hold our breath when we are feeling frazzled. Even taking a few slow, deep, belly breaths as a relaxation technique can reduce your level of negative stress in a matter of seconds.
- Express gratitude. It’s easy to focus on daily frustrations and annoyances, especially when feeling stressed. Take notes of the good in your life and take time to reflect on these blessings.
- Focus on what really matters. Take a few moments each day to reflect on social connections, special memories and other aspects of our lives for which you are grateful.
While the effects of stress can produce a wide variety of physical and psychological symptoms, it is worth noting that these symptoms can also mimic symptoms of medical conditions. Before attributing your symptoms to stress alone, it is important to check with your medical provider to ensure they are not due to a medical condition. For any health concerns you having, stress-related or otherwise, visit your UnityPoint Health primary care provider.
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