77 percent of us report that stress is affecting our physical health
73 percent of us feel so stressed that it’s hurting our mental health
48 percent of us are losing sleep because of stress
You're not alone if you’re often stressed about work, life, relationships, or even your daily commute. The good news is that there are tools and strategies you can use to manage your stress to avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and enjoy a happier, more fulfilling life.
We experience a stress response when our bodies sense an external threat that warrants a response. In pre-historic times, this threat could have taken the form of an attacking lion. But it’s important to recognize that all the problems and challenges of modern life—dealing with traffic, a micro-managing boss, money problems—all elicit a stress response.
Our bodies can’t distinguish between modern stressors or an approaching lion. As a result, we respond to an existential crisis as if it were an immediate, physical threat to our survival.
When faced with an external stressor, our bodies release stress hormones including cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These hormones trigger physical changes, such as an increased heart rate, which help us to focus on and deal with the challenge we’re facing. This is also known as the “fight or flight” response.
Imagine the stress of being on a rollercoaster. You feel exhilarated, yet you don’t feel threatened. The stress is manageable because you realize that your life isn’t really in danger, and it can be an enjoyable experience for many people.
While a rollercoaster is a benign example of stress, you don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to appreciate the benefits of stress. An approaching deadline can motivate us to bring a big project across the finish line. In some cases, the stress response can give you almost super-human strength (for example, the extra pressure of competition has been shown to help professional weightlifters lift an additional 12%).
When Does Stress Become Harmful?
Once a problem or stressful event subsides, our hormones should gradually rebalance and our stress response will go away. When stress lingers for too long or occurs too frequently, or when an event is so stressful that it overwhelms our ability to cope with it, we experience negative consequences that affect our short and long-term physical and mental health.
Since everyone experiences stress from time to time, and because stress is a natural part of life that can sometimes be beneficial, we’ll never be able to eliminate stress from our lives. Nor should we want to. That’s where stress management comes in.
Why Is Stress Management So Important?
Not everyone will experience stress the same way. An event or situation that one person finds manageable might completely overwhelm another person. This is why stress management is so important: it helps prevent the natural stressors of life from becoming chronic and overwhelming.
When you’re feeling stressed out over a long period of time, you will eventually start to break down physically and mentally. It’s inevitable. You’ll feel a decline in energy, productivity, and patience.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Armed with some knowledge and the right toolkit, you can detect stress symptoms and do something about them before they become a problem.
What Are the Signs of Stress Overload?
Below are some common signs that we’re having difficulty managing stress.
Pain such as headaches, muscle pain/aches, and an upset stomach
Spiraling, or feeling like you have no control over a situation
Lack of focus and energy
Overeating or eating too little
Sleeping too little or too much
Feelings of separateness, depression, or low self-esteem
Lack of patience
Anger and irritability
Drinking too much alcohol
Lack of concentration
How Can Stress Change Over Time?
Reaching middle age can be a big transition for various reasons. Here’s how both men and women can expect their experiences with stress to change as they age.
Menopause can cause a lot of changes that might make it feel challenging to feel your best self. The loss of fertility can bring on shifts in self-image and self-esteem; the decrease in energy and libido can affect your relationships.
Your adrenal glands take over some of the work your ovaries used to manage. These glands produce estrogen and progesterone—two hormones women need for emotional wellbeing. However, the adrenal glands choose to produce more cortisol—the primary stress hormone—and adrenaline during stressful times than estrogen and progesterone. As a result, your body is more sensitive to stress.
Men typically react to stress differently than women. This is because when they’re feeling stressed, men release much smaller amounts of oxytocin. Oxytocin helps relax and comfort you when you’re stressed and need it most. Since men get only small amounts, it leaves them lacking that natural calming benefit.
Whatever you face and however you’re feeling, it’s important not to trivialize your circumstances. Therefore, stay self-aware and look for signs of stress.
10 Ways to Naturally Manage Stress Levels
How to Relieve Stress Quickly
1. Try Relaxation Techniques
It’s important to silo yourself from the fast-paced, modern world and engage in some stress reduction techniques.
Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth and exhale through your mouth. Then:
Close your mouth and inhale through your nose, counting to four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight.
Repeat steps 1-3 as needed.
2. Seek Support
There’s no shame in getting help. Confide in a trusted family member, friend, or health professional. They can lend a listening ear and offer some stress relief recommendations that may fit your lifestyle.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
Good sleep sharpens judgment and helps you feel you have more control over your stressful situation. It calms and resets the body to help you tackle anything that comes your way.
Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Wind down one hour before bedtime by stowing away your electronic devices and dimming the lights.
Meditation is a proven method for quickly relieving stress, and has many more health benefits. There are many ways to approach meditation, and no single approach is necessarily better than another—find what works best for you. Some people respond better to mindfulness meditation while others prefer transcendental meditation.
5. Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude helps lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and so it is a powerful stress-relief tool. You can simply think about all the things you have for which you’re thankful. This can include your overall health, family, friends, or a job you enjoy. Recite them as part of your daily meditation habit or write them down in a journal. (Journaling is another excellent method for reducing stress.)
It doesn’t even matter what kind of exercise you engage in—it will have a positive effect on your stress levels. Taking a 20-minute walk is a good start. Ride your bike, swim a few laps, or start a yoga practice. These are all ways to get healthy and lessen the stress in your life.
2. Balance Work and Home
One powerful way to manage stress is to limit the amount of stressors in your life. Since work is such a huge contributor to stress for most Americans, balancing your work and home life can have a huge impact on your stress levels.
There are many ways to cultivate a healthy work-life balance. Set boundaries and practice saying no. Consider reducing or eliminating work notifications on your phone or setting a rule that you won’t check your phone after 6 pm each evening or during weekends. Enjoy hobbies, time with family, or bonding with your pet.
Eating a balanced diet has many benefits, but it is also a powerful tool in helping you manage stress. Additionally, you can make better choices when you recognize the link between your cravings for unhealthy food and how stressed you are feeling.
4. Reduce Alcohol
Overconsuming alcohol increases the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) in your body. Additionally, the adverse physical and mental effects of alcohol make the everyday stress of life even worse. People who attempt to cope with stress by turning to alcohol will find that it compounds their problems.
Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption can help rebalance cortisol levels and give you increased resilience to stress. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 2 drinks a day for men or 1 drink for women.
5. Plan Regular Vacations
Researchers in Germany found that taking a vacation leads to a reduction in stress levels for 5 weeks. Even if you can’t get away for too long, a short 4-day weekend was shown to have the same stress-relieving effect.
Taking time off from work and experiencing new places is a great way to recharge your batteries and build new memories with loved ones. Traveling can reduce cortisol levels, improve mood, and help reduce work-related stress.
Take that dream vacation you’ve always wanted, or go on a spur-of-the-moment getaway. Either way, you’ll be lowering your stress levels.
Health Supplements for Stress Management
Research shows a link between reductions in stress levels and these supplements:
B Vitamin Complex
B Vitamin Complex: B vitamins are known as building blocks, directly impacting energy, cell metabolism, and brain function. Studies show that B vitamin supplementation can help improve mood and reduce stress.
GABA: GABA, or gamma aminobutyric acid, is an amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter in your brain. When it attaches itself to a receptor, GABA creates a calming effect. Taking GABA supplements may help encourage this stimulation in your brain and help you feel better.
L-Theanine:Studies illustrate L-theanine, an amino acid commonly found in green and black tea, relaxes the mind without triggering drowsiness.
Life can be stressful. And while you can’t always help or control what happens to you, you can control how you respond to it. Learning how to manage stress is a powerful life skill that can enrich your life, no matter where you are on your journey. Let Superior Labs be part of your support system.