· By Caitlin Bray
How Do You Handle Stress and Pressure?
If you’re in a social circle with others struggling from anxiety, a frequent question that gets asked is “how do you handle stress and pressure?” It’s human nature to want to seek out other coping strategies, especially if the ones that you’ve been employing don’t seem to be working too well.
Learning stress management strategies and how to managing stressful situations is a great way to help improve your self-awareness of your overall mental health, especially when it comes handling stress and the things that can cause it like time management pressures and balancing different parts of your life, tight deadlines in a competitive work environment, or even just battling everyday anxieties.
What Exactly is Stress?
To adequately answer the question: “how do you handle stress and pressure?”, it’s first important to learn more about what exactly stress is on a biological level.
Stress is the normal reaction that both your body and your brain has to any perceived change or challenge that requires a response. These reactions can happen emotionally, mentally, physically, or even all of the above. Our bodies, specifically our autonomic nervous system (or ANS), were actually designed to react to stress, which is why our fight or flight response becomes activated.
Any type of change or challenge can trigger a stress response - moving, getting married, having work-related trouble, family issues, etc. It doesn’t just have to be a negative stimulus either, even positive change can be stressful. It may not even be something you would call a “big” change--sometimes even simple problem-solving tasks within your own creative work, or trying to prep sample answers for upcoming interview questions can be some of the most stress-triggering scenarios based on what you personally value and hold important.
Stress can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), and everyone will experience it at some point in their lives. It’s just part of being a human.
It’s how you cope with a little stress that defines how seriously your body responds, and how quickly you can get back to normal.
Is Stress Ever a Good Thing?
Are there ever situations where stress can actually be a good thing?
Without our body’s fight or flight response, the human species would likely not be alive to even be having this conversation. Stress is what got humans through many life-threatening, dangerous situations throughout our evolution, and it's a motivator that continues to help push us forward even when our own body language and thoughts don't feel comfortable with change. It makes us run faster, lift cars off of children, and avoid being attacked by bears. It’s an incredibly important part of what makes us human in the first place.
Stress has the ability to work as a strong motivational factor. Stress can push us to do our best work, whether it's pressure to impress that hiring manager by nailing those job interview questions, giving us the nudge we need for prioritizing productivity over play, or serving as that little voice in our head that tells us we need to keep going even if we want to shut down.
After those times of brief stress are over, our body can more quickly return to normal, and something positive has happened for the better. It’s longer, extended periods of stress that can be the most physically harmful.
That doesn’t mean that positive stress doesn’t have the ability to be harmful. Even positive stress can affect the body both physically and emotionally, as we’ll learn.
Can Stress Affect You Physically?
Stress, especially chronic stress, definitely has the ability to affect you physically.
In the short term, stress can affect your sleep and eating patterns, which can also affect your ability to think, function, and make healthy choices for yourself and others. Once the stress is over, your body returns fairly quickly to homeostasis (your body’s “baseline” settings) without too much trouble.
If you experience long-term stress, your body never gets the opportunity to return to homeostasis. When it exists in a constant state of fight or flight for a longer period of time, nearly every system of your body can be affected - cardiovascular, digestive, immune, sleep, and even reproductive. It’s something that should be taken very seriously.
This can even lead to physical symptoms like GI distress (feeling nauseated or having frequent bouts of diarrhea), headaches, and getting sick more frequently, even without any noticeable mental signs. Your body may let you know that you’re stressed out before your mind is even aware.
If your stress lasts long enough, it can even lead to more serious health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. This is because stress begins to play a management role in your body, pushing its focus on staying alive, resulting in many of the smaller processes it deems less important fall to the wayside.
It’s no wonder that knowing how to better handle stress is such an important conversation to have - it can literally be lifesaving.
What Are The Physical Symptoms of Stress?
In addition to the mental toll that stress can take on the body, people often wonder if there are early physical signs of stress that they can look out for.
Here is just a small list of the many physical symptoms of stress. In addition to the signs mentioned above, if any of these look familiar, you should take a deeper look at your stress level and take steps to minimize it.
- Neck and shoulder tension
- Acid reflux
- Tightness in the chest
- Racing heart
- Clenched jaw
- Grinding teeth
- Weight gain or loss
- Loss of appetite
In addition to physical signs of stress, stress can also reveal itself through emotional and behavioral changes. These changes include frequent panic attacks, crying, becoming withdrawn from friends and family, or being easily irritated or angered. If you notice any of these changes, make sure to deal with them as soon as you can before they get out of control. It’s much easier to put out a small fire than a big one.
So, How Do You Handle Stress and Pressure?
While everyone handles it differently, most people use a few similar techniques to help get them through times of extreme stress and pressure. Here is a list of what many people find to be the most helpful coping strategies.
- Make sure you’re getting regular exercise - Even just half an hour a day helps not only relieve stress but also releases endorphins that can counteract anxiety. Go for a walk or a run, walk your dog, hit the gym. Having an outlet to get the stress out in a healthy, physical way can be just the thing to help you through increased periods of stress.
- Practice self-care - This looks different for everyone, but this list should always include things that make you feel calm. Common self-care techniques usually include taking a bath, meditation, getting dinner with a friend, or spending time with your cat. Ultimately, whatever helps you center and focus on taking care of yourself is a self-care win.
- Talk it out - If you have friends or family members who are supportive, get together with them. It will give you space not only to vent but also to potentially find solutions to situations that are causing you stress. If you don’t have anyone in your life like that, consider seeing a therapist. Therapy can be an amazing way of managing stress and anxiety in a helpful, neutral space where you can be honest about your feelings safely.
- Take care of your body - In addition to getting regular exercise, make sure you’re also taking care of your body from the inside. Eat healthy food, try a supplement (look for one that increases GABA in the body, like PYM Original Mood Chews), drink plenty of water. Take care of your body so that it can more quickly return back to a state of homeostasis. Plus you’ll just feel better.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption - In addition to focusing on living a healthier lifestyle, it’s often best for people going through serious times of stress and anxiety to limit their consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Not only are both of these substances addictive, but they can also worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. You don’t want to develop negative coping mechanisms in place of healthier ways to deal with stress.
- Get plenty of sleep - Sleep is essential, even when you’re not stressed out. Getting at least 6 -7 hours of sleep a night can help your body handle the physical effects of stress much better, and help your mind be able to cope better as well. Without quality sleep, your judgment and reflexes can be affected, which compounds over time.
- Practice mindfulness - One last way that has been proven helpful to combat the effects of stress and pressure on both the mind and the body is to practice mindfulness. While many people think of this as simple meditation, the act of mindfulness is so much more than that. When you’re mindful, you not only focus on the moment and your breathing, you can also become much more attuned to how you’re feeling. This is hugely helpful when it comes to the management of anxiety.
Stress can literally kill you. How do you handle stress and pressure? Knowing what your normal response is, and how you can develop better, more healthy coping skills, can be lifesaving. Stress is something that should always be taken seriously, as it can come with some significant health side effects. Start helping yourself by putting some steps into place today to lower your stress level, and develop a plan moving forward to help manage stress and pressure in the future.
Future you will thank you.