Even the most mellow individual will encounter stressful times now and then. How they handle these events—and more importantly, recover from them—is what makes all the difference. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to cope more healthfully when you feel stressed. Maybe you have some reliable methods already, but if not, consider some of these options.
Is All Stress Bad?
Not necessarily. How you experience stress is based primarily on your perspective of the stressor. Here’s what we mean.
Often referred to as eustress, it encourages motivation and helps you handle major changes or challenges, such as working hard on your addiction recovery, embarking on a new business venture, getting married, and so on. Your body produces interleukins—chemicals that boost your immune system—and some studies indicate a brief burst of good stress strengthens neurons, which improves attention span and memory, and may help productivity.
Often a short-term sensation, eustress prompts optimal performance, and most of us can handle it without too many problems.
Known as distress, this is a reaction to adverse stressors that drain your energy, mental capacity, and ability to cope. Your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) enters a heightened state of “fight, flight, or freeze” and you’re overwhelmed by stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline. If you experience chronic long-term distress, it settles into your mind and body—and stays there.
The resulting symptoms may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Muscle and joint tension
- Brain fog
- Sleep disruptions
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Immune system issues
The American Psychological Association (APA) states that extensive stress compounds multiple health problems in the long run, including respiratory difficulties, digestive issues, heart complications, and reduced endocrine system function, which may lead to chronic diseases.
Stress is often a contributing factor in addiction because it compromises impulse control. Additionally, as people try to navigate the complications of their lives, they’ll turn to just about anything that eases the pain, including drugs and alcohol. The stress may come from adverse childhood experiences, the pressure from daily responsibilities, or a traumatic event. Fortunately, there are many ways you can manage stress more effectively.
Tips to Stress Less
Instead of allowing stressors to assault your body and mind, use these techniques to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is the “rest and digest” process, and reframe the situation. Keep in mind: the goal isn’t to suppress your thoughts and feelings about the situation. Acknowledge what’s happening, and then take action with soothing methods to recalibrate what’s happening to you.
It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s amazing. Breathwork is a deliberate focus on your respiratory system to signal the SNS to turn off the perceived danger alert and return to a more calm state. One simple technique is to inhale and exhale equally for a count of 10. More advanced methods from breathwork experts include the square breath and two exhales/one inhale, among others.
Harvard Medical School indicates that even taking a brief 20-minute walk when you feel stressed lowers adrenaline and cortisol and boosts endorphins, which are “chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.” There’s also a concept called “muscular meditation”—if you have a high-stress job, for example, balance its effects with rhythmic, repetitive exercise such as running, swimming, or flow yoga, which releases tension and clears your mind. And if you can exercise outdoors, you’ll get a nature boost as well, which research indicates is an automatic stress reliever.
We think we can push through and sometimes, this is true. But overall, there’s a threshold of sleep you require to operate efficiently each day. The healing power of sleep helps you have more control over impulses and reactions to better handle what comes your way. Are you sleep-deprived? Take this quiz to find out.
What you eat most definitely contributes to mood. The Cleveland Clinic notes that when we’re stressed, our cortisol levels spike, which prompts cravings for anything fatty, salty, and sugary. Why? Your brain wants fuel to combat the perceived threat. These foods also contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. Fortunately, if you focus on a whole-food nutrition plan most of the time, it helps you recover more quickly when life is a little crazy.
Do what you can to ward off the impact of stress with regular self care. Use holistic methods to manage chronic pain, lean on your sobriety network for extra support during tough times, and create moments of grounding with meditation, prayer, or deliberate moments of stillness.
Find Hope, Health, and Healing at Great Oaks
Many people believe that rehab is simply detoxification. While detox is a vital part of the recovery process, there’s so much more to whole-person addiction treatment. At Great Oaks Recovery Center just outside of Houston, our board-certified professionals help you or a loved one acknowledge thoughts and emotions that may lead to maladaptive behavior. More importantly, we provide access to therapies and other techniques that give you better control, so when those inevitable stressful moments happen, your well-being won’t have to suffer. Learn more about how the Great Oaks approach benefits you.