Managing Your Stress Response for Better Health

By on May 21, 2023

By Outer Banks Health

Stress is part of life, no matter who you are, stress is a normal part of being human. Feeling stressed is our automatic physical, mental, and emotional reaction to a challenging event. Doing so helps us adjust to new situations by impacting our heart rate, breathing, and vision, which makes us more alert and motivated.

Stress can have a negative effect…For this reason, it is important to keep our response to stress in check in order to protect our overall well-being.

“Our bodies give us a lot of warning signs when we’re becoming overly stressed,” says Janet Creef, licensed clinical social worker with Outer Banks Health Cancer Services. “A few of those are unexplained chest pain, racing heart, trouble sleeping, dizziness, high blood pressure, digestive challenges, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.” Creef also noted that chronic stress can weaken our immune system, which opens the door for other illnesses.

Stress is subjective because what is stressful for one person may not be for someone else. And while avoiding stress isn’t realistic because we can’t always control what is happening around us, we can adjust the way we react or deal with the situations that trigger our stress response.

“We want to avoid unhealthy coping methods,” says Creef, “with things like increased alcohol intake, overspending, overeating, and resorting to tobacco or drug use.  Instead, consider a healthier route by creating a stress management plan.”

The first step is to identify the sources of stress in your life. It could be certain situations or demands made on you by others. Make a list and rank them from 1 to10, with 10 being the most stressful for you.

Then develop ways to cope with these items. Consider relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation, or activities like yoga or walking.  Even simple things, like spontaneously dancing, can reduce your stress level.

Next, set some short- and long-term goals. For instance, make a commitment for a month to do 10 minutes of meditation each morning, take a walk each day, or join a yoga class.  A long-term goal might be continually practicing an effective (and healthy) response to your stress triggers, like breathing techniques, counting to 10, or temporarily removing yourself from the stress-inducing situation.

Monitor your progress by tracking how you feel before and after you complete a healthy coping response. It will help you determine which things effectively reduce your stress.

Learning to manage the stress response is one component of a healthy lifestyle. This, in addition to proper nutrition and sleep habits, can significantly improve your quality of life.

For more from Janet Creef, take a listen to the latest Outer Banks Health podcast.


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