One winter evening, Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, stood on the front porch of his house, fumbled through his pockets, and found he didn’t have his keys. It was freezing cold and definitely a bad time to forget his keys. He looked through the window and saw the keys lying on the dining room table, where he had left them earlier in the day. All the other doors were locked, and he contemplated calling a locksmith but figured it would take time for the locksmith to arrive since it was midnight. He had an early flight to Europe the next morning, and his passport and suitcase were inside the house.
Desperate and cold, he found a large rock and broke through his basement window and crawled through. He found a piece of cardboard and covered the opening, figuring that in the morning, he could call his contractor on the way to the airport and ask him to fix it.
The next morning, with little sleep and worrying about the hole in the window, the contractor, freezing temperatures, and a meeting he had upcoming in Europe, he went to the airport. When he got to the check-in counter, he realized he didn’t have his passport.
That’s the effect of stress.
(Watch his video on “How to stay calm when you know you’ll be stressed” from TED Talks)
We live in a world full of pressures and traffic jams, deadlines and bills piling up, pressure at work and expectations at home. At any point, the pressure can push us past our limits and cause us to break down. As a result, we often experience feelings such as anger or anxiety under these conditions, which can lead to poor decision-making and problems at work and in relationships.
What is stress?
Stress is a natural reaction to situations that cause us to feel afraid or unsure. When we are stressed, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to help us deal with the situation. These hormones raise our heart rate and blood pressure, making us feel more alert, but they also cause other physical symptoms. In small doses, these reactions are normal and healthy — they help us adapt to different situations.
But when stress becomes chronic (lasting months or years), it can take a toll on both our physical health and mental well-being. According to a report by The American Institute of Stress, 57% of US respondents are paralyzed by stress.
What does stress look like?
Stress can manifest in many ways, including:
- Behavioral changes, such as increased irritability, anger or frustration.
- Physical symptoms such as headache, stomachache or muscle tension.
- Cognitive changes, such as difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
- Emotional changes, including sadness and worry.
Stress can negatively affect your mood, sleep, and overall well-being. When you experience stress regularly, you may notice that you feel tired or irritable more often than usual.
How to deal with stress?
The three steps below can be considered measures needed to guide the need to manage stress:
Is stress negatively impacting me and others close to me? It’s important to recognize when stress is negatively impacting your life so you can take steps to reduce or eliminate it. If the stress is causing problems at work or home, then it may be time to seek professional help. You don’t have to suffer in silence when there are effective treatments available for managing stress and anxiety disorders.
Once you’ve recognized that stress is negatively impacting you, it may be time to commit to achieving what’s truly important to you: good health, improved relationships, etc. Focus on one item at a time until it gets done — then move onto the next one on the list until all items have been crossed off!
3. Make a Plan and Follow the Plan.
To manage stress effectively and become the best version of yourself, set realistic goals that you can achieve over time. For example, if you want to lose weight for good, plan ahead and make changes gradually over time. That way, your body has time to adjust.
Whether your stress is generated by work, home life, relationship troubles, or something else altogether, you don’t have to deal with it on your own. Seek out a support network and learn the coping skills that will help you rise above whatever you’re facing. And if the stresses are piling up too much and you just can’t find any relief, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional and talk about your issues. With these steps, you can get on with enjoying the things that make life worth living.