Feeling Stressed? Tips and Strategies for Managing and Reducing Stress
Stress is a universal experience. We’ve all experienced stress at varying degrees throughout our lives. Sometimes, this stress is related to work, finances, family relationships, and/or parenting. No matter the cause, long-term stress can significantly and negatively impact all bodily systems (APA, 2023).
Specifically, chronic stress often causes the body to tense muscles in an attempt to guard itself against possible injury. This muscle tension often results in long-term muscle fatigue and pain (Shaw et al., 2023). Chronic stress can also lead to shortness of breath, ultimately exacerbating respiratory conditions and resulting in Asthma attacks. Further, frequent stress often leads to increased heart rate and blood pressure thus leading to an increased risk for hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes (Shaw et al., 2023).
Chronic stress also increases glucocorticoids, including cortisol, which has the potential to trigger metabolic disorders (diabetes, obesity, etc.), immune disorders, depression, and other mental health disorders (Shaw et al., 2023). Furthermore, stress can cause gut bacteria to shift, which in turn can negatively impact your mood and cause stomach pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation. Finally, chronic stress can negatively impact the reproductive system by decreasing sex drive, lowing sperm count, disrupting menstrual cycles, reducing the ability to conceive, and reducing the health of a pregnancy (Shaw et al., 2023).
As stated previously, stress is a universal experience and virtually unavoidable at points throughout our lives. However, by learning strategies to manage stress, we can prevent it from becoming chronic and therefore limit the impact that stress has on our physical and emotional functioning.
While there are endless ways that you can manage your stress, experts agree that increasing your engagement with your social support system and community goes a long way in reducing stress levels over the long term (CDC, 2021). Furthermore, the American Heart Association (2021) recommends that you pay close attention to how you talk to yourself as too much negative self-talk often increases stress, anxiety, and depression. Experts also agree that participating in physical activities/exercise, healthy diets, and healthy sleep habits help reduce stress and improve mental health functioning. Finally, if you find that these and other strategies are not reducing your stress levels significantly, it is likely time to consider pursuing therapy for further support and assistance.
Unfortunately, you are guaranteed to experience stress multiple times throughout your life. Thankfully, if the stress is short-term and mild in nature, it is unlikely to have lasting harmful effects on your physical and mental health. However, chronic stress poses a high risk to your overall health. As such, it is vital to learn skills and strategies to manage your stress at its first sign. If you find that the strategies discussed are not helping reduce your stress, please reach out to our office to schedule an appointment with one of our providers!
About the Author
Dr. Montes is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center in Chesapeake, VA.
American Heart Association. (2022, July 26). 3 tips to manage stress. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/3-tips-to-manage-stress
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 30). Tips for coping with stress|publications|violence prevention|injury Center|CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hesler, B. (2023, February 21). 5 tips to manage stress. Mayoclinichealthysystem.org. http://www.mayoclinichealthysystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/5-tips-to-manage-stress
Shaw, W., Labott-Smith, S., Burg, M., Hostinar, C., Alen, N., van Tilburg, M., Berntson, G., Tovian, S., & Spirito, M. (2018, November 1). Stress effects on the body. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body#:~:text=This%20long%2Dterm%20ongoing%20stress,tie%20stress%20to%20heart%20attack.