What happens when you get stressed?  

By Regan Cunningham, LSW

Do you tend to feel anxious?  Restless? A million different things on your mind racing around to be the first thought you have when you wake up in the morning? Let’s consider what we can do to help with that. 

Stress is often underestimated for how severe it can be. Not only can it contribute to different chronic illnesses, but it can contribute to the development of heart disease and cancers over time. What happens when you’re stressed is similar to if you ran a marathon for several days. Your body still releases the same stress or reactive hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This is why it is so important we nip whatever is stressing us so often or not. 

It seems there are a few things that we can do to trick our bodies to feel calmer than we might really be, so let’s explore that right now. 

  1. Deep breathing. There is something about taking in a few deep breathes throughout our day that calms our central nervous system. Instead of reacting to our continual strenuous environment that requires us to meet deadlines and drink water on a regular basis, we can prepare ourselves for stress by taking a few breathes throughout our day to calm our minds and bodies. Studies have shown that deep breathing (4 seconds in through our nose and 4 seconds out our mouth) that triggers a calming reaction in our bodies. I would encourage this whether or not you are stressed as a daily routine, whether it becomes an intentional exercise before you go to bed to calm your body or to calm down when you are feeling your anxiety kicking in. 
  1. Mindful activity. Mindfulness is sometimes taken to be a spiritual or meditative exercise, but it in actuality it is a way for our minds and bodies to feel grounded in the present so we can focus and regulate our emotions and mind. I encourage watching this video to get an idea of exercises you can do. Even a simple walk outside to take in your surroundings and breathing in fresh air can sometimes be a mindful activity. 
  1. Remember to take slow down and rest. Regardless of how much sleep you can get or when the project is due at work or school, I strongly encourage clients to take time for themselves to separate from their work. Sometimes the most productive thing we can do is relax due to burnt out being the other option. When you are stressed, consider if there is anything on your schedule that can be taken away that would relieve the stress. Perhaps you miss a workout if it means being able to get a nap in. Or you nix tv time in order to do a mindful activity (instead move that tv time for another day to even look forward to!). However you prioritize, it is important to intentionally consider what values you hold and if they align with your schedule or what you are doing with your day. If you are feeling stressed from a conflict, consider time to plot out how to resolve the conflict and what steps you can take to resolve them. 

When it comes to being stressed, a lot can happen to our minds and bodies. Our hearts can race. We can become forgetful. We can lose sleep. The most important thing to do when we start to feel stress creeping up is to write down or verbalize to ourselves the things that are burdening us. Perhaps we can restructure schedules, slow down to calm down, or breathe through the triggered anxiety. Whatever it maybe for you, I want you to consider what has also motivated you to keep going. Perhaps it is a day off. Or it is the remembrance of better days or problems in the past being resolved. Whatever your solution is to stress, consider how it can help you along the way.