Stress is one of the common terms that we associate with modern-day living. It is due to numerous causes ranging from traffic to pressure in the workplace to family struggles.
The American Institute of Stress says that stress can be good for our bodies.
According to the group, good stress can happen when we feel excited. It can happen when we are anxious about something like going on a date. Or when riding a roller coaster for the first time.
During these instances, our heartbeat goes fast. Our hormones surge, too. But we don’t feel threatened or scared. This type of stress is beneficial to our bodies.
Healthy stress is typically short-term. Once it passes away, we usually feel relieved or even euphoric. Think of how happy you are after beating a deadline for a project.
But did you know that there are unhealthy ways of coping with stress? What are these, and how should you cope with stress?
These are some of the questions that we will answer in this article.
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What is unhealthy stress?
As we mentioned earlier, healthy stress happens for a short period of time. Also known as acute stress, it helps us live a healthier life.
You can develop determination and improve your focus when you experience this. These qualities can help you finish a task or achieve a goal, like winning a race or passing a requirement on time.
Moreover, good stress can be beneficial to your health. It can boost your immune system and increase your resilience.
On the other hand, unhealthy stress happens when you have an intense response to stress.
It can affect your ability to think clearly. It can also negatively impact how you deal with other people.
The Mayo Clinic says that bad stress can lead to a host of health problems like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
You can also experience headache, muscle pain or tension, and fatigue when you are stressed. You may even suffer from an upset stomach.
Unhealthy stress can also have an impact on your mood. You could feel restless. You may also feel anxious and irritable.
Sadness and depression are also two common effects of stress. You may also lose your determination and focus when you are stressed.
Stress becomes an even bigger problem when you develop unhealthy ways to cope with stress. As you will learn, later on, many people fail to handle stress.
What are unhealthy coping strategies?
How do you cope with stress? We have different ways of managing it.
For example, many people like to grab a cup of coffee when stressed. It is common to see office workers head to Starbucks for their morning fix, just before heading to a meeting or working at their desks.
An occasional cup of coffee may seem harmless, but did you know that too much caffeine can be harmful to your body? High doses of caffeine can lead to nervousness and anxiety.
The American Psychiatric Association listed caffeine-induced anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Drinking too much coffee can make you nervous and jittery.
Coffee may make you alert in the morning, but it can also cause you to have sleepless nights.
And while it boosts adrenaline levels, it can make you feel agitated and edgy once the initial feeling of excitement and alertness wears off.
Here’s a tip: limit your intake of coffee. Avoid drinking coffee after 2 in the afternoon because it can overstay in your body. This can disrupt your sleep later at night.
People also tend to rely on alcohol to cope with stress. Like coffee, a bottle or two of beer may seem helpful. But drinking excessively can have a negative impact in the long run.
Let’s be blunt about it: alcohol is not a stress management solution. It is a depressant which can slow down the processes in the central nervous system.
Heavy drinking can negatively affect the neurotransmitters in our brain, which are vital to good mental health.
In short, drinking alcohol may help you temporarily forget your problems at work. But in the long run, drinking excessively may lead to depression and anxiety. It can make you feel more miserable.
So, how much alcohol should you take in a day? Limit yourself to one drink a day. And never rely on alcohol as your only means to cope with stress.
Smoking is yet another means for people to cope with stress. But it is far from being a healthy means to manage stress.
Ask around, and you will be surprised that many smokers rely on tobacco to manage stress. The Mental Health Foundation calls this self-medication.
It is no secret that smoking has numerous physical health risks. Smoking can lead to bad breath. It can also cause stained teeth and gum disease.
Smoking also increases the risks of cancer in the lips, throat, tongue, and esophagus.
It can also damage your heart and increase your risks of ailments like coronary heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and cerebrovascular disease.
Smoking can also cause irreparable damage to your lungs. It can cause asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, and lung cancer. You also increase your risk of getting the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease when you smoke.
Smoking also affects your skin, reproductive organs, bones, and brains. In short, the list of bad effects of smoking on our physical health is quite long.
Smoking also has a bad impact on mental health. The main chemical in cigarettes, nicotine, stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain. This is a chemical that triggers good feelings.
But while smoking may appear to make people feel good, it can also make our brains deactivate its own mechanism for releasing dopamine.
This explains why people tend to smoke more. In the long run, however, smoking can be one of the worst ways to handle stress.
It is also common for people to take over-the-counter drugs when they are stressed. They think that these medications can help them in managing stress in the same way that drugs can relieve chronic pain.
Some OTC drugs like sedative medications and anti-depressant medications help lower stress levels.
While some people swear that taking OTC drugs can contribute to lower stress levels, many of these medications have side effects.
Over-reliance on OTC drugs may lead you to experience health issues like increased anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, depression, and confusion.
Finally, people find overeating to be therapeutic when they are stressed. About 25% of American adults overeat when they are stressed, according to a survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association, Most people who are stressed crave for high-carbs foods such as donuts and ice cream.
While foods that are high in sugar can temporarily boost your mood, the danger is that the sugar levels can crash after a couple of hours. As a result, you would feel lethargic afterward.
And you don’t need to be a health expert to know that poor dietary choices can compromise your health. You will gain weight if your diet consists mainly of foods rich in carbs.
Instead of turning to comfort eating when stressed, you should maintain a balanced diet. Be mindful of what you eat.
Minimize your intake of coffee and foods rich in sugar. Instead, find and eat more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables.
What not to do when you are stressed?
Basing from those unhealthy ways to deal with everyday stress, one can say that smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking over-the-counter medications are poor ways to handle stress.
You should also avoid drinking too much coffee and overeating.
But there are other things that you should avoid when you are stressed. These things can help you feel better and stay healthy.
One is to avoid losing sleep. Taking enough sleep is, after all, one of the best ways to control stress.
Sleep deprivation makes us more reactive to stress. It can also increase our stress levels. Our cognitive functioning also suffers when we don’t get enough sleep.
In short, you will feel more stressed when you don’t get the recommended eight hours of sleep.
Sure, stress can affect your ability to get quality sleep. You may be thinking too much about the things that worry you.
But you can always practice good sleep hygiene like darkening the room or maintaining a regular sleep schedule. You may also try avoiding the use of phones before taking a nap.
Also, experts recommend that you avoid talking about your problem with your best bud. This can make you scratch your head, especially if you’ve always believed that chatting with your pal is your best way how to cope with stress.
However, one study showed that stress hormones tend to increase when female friends discuss their problems together. The study proponents explained that talking excessively about problems can only increase negativity among friends.
It can also be tempting to skip your workouts when you are stressed. You’d rather drown your misery by drinking wine, right?
But studies have shown that skipping exercise is one of the things you should avoid when you are dealing with stress. And let’s remember that being fit is key to fighting health-risks related to stress.
In 2016, scientists from the Sahlgrenska University in Sweden and the University of Basel in Switzerland examined the health of more than 200 workers.
They found out that those who were stressed out have higher levels of cholesterol and blood pressure.
Interestingly, their findings also showed that stressed workers who were physically active had lower cardiovascular risk factors.
The study’s findings were published in the Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise journal. One of the authors noted that people lean towards not working out when they are stressed.
How should most people deal with stress?
Getting enough sleep and exercise are not the only effective means to handle stress. There are other simple and effective ways to do so.
Instead of discussing your worries with your best pal, why don’t you write it down? You’d be surprised to learn that journaling has been proven to be useful in healthy stress management.
One study conducted by a researcher from Ohio State University proved this.
Richard Petty found that writing negative thoughts on a piece of paper and then physically throwing it can lower stress. He published a research in the Psychological Science journal.
His study also proves that writing down negative thoughts serves as an emotional release. It can clear your mind and help you focus on your emotions.
You’ll be able to clear your mind of negativity and, in the process, reduce your stress.
You should also try to laugh. Laughter, as they say, is the best medicine. It has been proven effective in relieving tension by relaxing your muscles. In the long term, it also boosts your mood and immune system.
Why don’t you try watching a funny movie or TV show? Better yet, spend time with friends and family members who can make you laugh.
You can also alleviate stress by practicing deep breathing exercises. You can try abdominal breathing, paced respiration, and belly breathing.
Deep breathing exercises can activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system and let you relax.
Finally, spend time with the people who matter to you. Spend more time with your family members or loved ones. You can also play with your pet.
Spending time with them can aid in the release of oxytocin, a chemical that enables our bodies to fight stress.
In short, the answer to the question: “how to deal with stress?” is simple: avoid the unhealthy ways to cope with stress.
Stay away from too much alcohol and caffeine. Don’t overeat and refrain from taking over the counter medicines. Lastly, don’t smoke.