What about stress?

As we move into the new year, we take all our issues from 2018 with us, so there is some benefit to talking about stress as we start the new year.  There is surely enough stress to go around.  The stock market is having issues.  Lots of people are out of work due to the government shut down, and the bills from the holidays will be coming in shortly.  So many people start the year stressed about money, relationships, kids and so much more, but stress can have an effect on your body and well-being. You need to pay attention to your level of stress.  It can start you on a cycle that can have lasting effects of your future.

Stress creates issues with your body, your mood, and your behavior.  When you are stressed, you might feel tired, or have sleep issues.  Many of my patients talk about not being able to fall asleep because they can’t “stop thinking about things”.  It can cause stomach problems, tense muscles, and even chest pain.  It can change relationships and sex drive, making small problems bigger and harder to manage.  Stress can elevate your blood pressure, causing other medical conditions that can put your life at risk.

It also affects mood.  It can increase anxiety and depression, and in someone with those problems already, if can make a problem worse.  It can create problems with concentration and memory, and can make finding the keys in the morning and frustrating task.  For many, stress decreases a person’s ability to manage frustration, resulting in an increase in anger and irritability.  I know when I’m stressed, my fuse gets shorter and I’m more likely to have a sharp tongue and snap at people.  It can also make some situations feel very overwhelming, and add to feeling helpless or even hopeless.

Behavior also changes with stress.  For me, avoidance and overeating tend to be a problem.  For many people I see, alcohol and drug use increases as a way to “feel better” and “forget” even for a little while.  Many stop their self-care, opting instead to just stay at home, on the couch watching television. Make no mistake, “vegging” on the couch generally isn’t helpful.  For many, smoking increases, or they go back to smoking after quitting, then get angry at themselves for starting again, increasing the stress even more.  They stop exercising and eating healthy, instead opting for “comfort food” to help them feel better.

With stress, come changes in body chemistry, and the release of Cortisol, the “stress hormone”.  Cortisol has been linked to issues with memory, learning, lowing the immune system, weight gain, issues with blood pressure, heart disease, and so much more.  Chronic “bad stress” causes physical symptoms, with treatment implications for the future. 

I hope that most people know that chronic stress and not being mindful of your own well-being is a problem for your future, but do you know how to manage it?  Research has lots of ideas, with exercise, sleep, and eating healthy being only a few of the recommendations.  Other’s talk about staying connected to the community and family being as important.  Feeling alone increases stress, but having support can help manage stress into the future.  Scheduling time for family and fun activities is important, like reading or traveling.  Relaxation exercises and getting out of the house, and away from television and other “screen” time are also recommended.  To many times recently I have heard about how social media is increasing stress, not helping it. 

There is all kinds of stress, including bad stress and good stress.  Good stress might be starting a new job, or buying a new house.  Getting married is usually a very stressful time, or moving a relationship to the next level can also be good stress if the relationship is supportive.  On the flip side, buying a house you can’t really afford, starting a new job you really didn’t want to have to take, or getting married for the wrong reasons are also types of bad stress.  There will always be stress, and how you view it, and how you manage it, become the key to a good year and a good future.

Stress causes so much heartache and grief.  Everyone should know how to manage it, so it doesn’t affect your health, medical or mental.  If you need support, find help from a local therapist or other option, but get support as soon as you understand that you are on the wrong path.  There is always assistance if you ask, so find what works for you.  In the quest to be happy, for life, managing stress is as important as breathing.