The last year has been anything but normal. Our brains perceive a prolonged absence of predictability and reliability as a stressor, which can lead to increased anxiety, disrupted sleep and other undesirable effects. Shelly Komondoros, Ph.D., inpatient health psychologist at UnityPoint Health, helps you recognize your body’s stress response, as well as offers ways to cope with stress and anxiety in your everyday life.
Signs of Stress
Stress is an automatic response triggered by the more primitive areas of our brain. This is known as the “stress response" and it’s actually essential to our survival. However, it's not good if it continues over an extended period of time.
“Stress is the body’s automatic physical reaction to events in our environment 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, immune and nervous system.”
Common signs and symptoms of stress include:
- Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
- Upset stomach, loss of appetite or overeating
- Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Short temper, irritability
“Developing self-awareness and recognizing when your body needs extra care is essential. I find people are pretty good at identifying what symptoms show up when faced with stress. So, when things aren’t going your way, you feel a loss of control or overwhelmed, pay attention and tune in to your body,” Dr. Komondoros says.
11 Stress Relief Activities
Recognizing you’re stressed is one thing, but stress management is another. Try these stress management techniques:
- Put yourself first. Check in with yourself a couple times a day. Ask, “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. Although there are many ways technology triggers stress, it also offers many supportive and portable tools to reduce stress and promote well-being. There are even free stress relief apps to help you practice mindfulness.
- 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 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 your life you are grateful for.
- Get outside. A boost of free vitamin D can really enhance your mood and keep energy levels up. You only need 10-15 minutes of sunlight to feel the positive effects. Going for a short walk can also boost your mood.
- Declutter. Clutter can flood our minds with too much stimulation, increasing anxiety and making it difficult to relax. Getting organized is one way to help you feel in control when things are uncontrollable around you.
- Make a Plan. Think of the next birthday, holiday or big event in your life. Plan ahead to feel less anxious when that day actually arrives.
While the effects of stress can produce a wide variety of physical and psychological symptoms, it is worth noting these symptoms can also mimic symptoms of medical conditions. Before attributing your symptoms to stress alone, it is important to check with your care team. For any health concerns, stress-related or otherwise, visit your UnityPoint Health primary care provider.
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