Everyone deals with stress, but not all stress is easy to mitigate or solve. As Stress Awareness month comes to a close, it’s important to take time to reflect on what causes unwanted stress in your own and loved ones’ lives to better understand how to change things for the better. Since April of 1992, Stress Awareness Month has been recognized nation-wide, but every year brings new experiences and challenges. Learning to deal with the sources and feelings of stress with healthy and reliable methods can go a long way toward living a healthy and positive life.

Make sure to talk to your doctor if you’re feeling stressed for weeks on end or are experiencing extreme stress you don’t know how to cope with. But you can implement strategies on your own to lead a less stressful life as well.

Let’s take a closer look at what stress is biologically and some tips below on how to manage stressful feelings and keep triggers at bay.

Why Does Stress Happen?

Stress is your body’s innate defense system against predators and danger. It pumps your body with hormones that prepare its systems to get away from or confront danger. This is often called the Fight or Flight response.

When people encounter a challenge or threat, there’s always a chemical response in the body. The body brings out chemical resources that help people either evade or confront the challenge to ensure safety measures are being taken. Some of these more active chemicals include quantities of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which induce physical reactions like increased blood pressure, muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness. 

These chemical measures all improve a person’s natural ability to respond to a hazardous or challenging scenario. Environmental factors that cause reactions like the above are called stressors. Some common examples include loud noises, aggressive behavior, dangerously fast vehicles, scary scenes in movies, or even going to a job interview.

Luckily, there are reliable ways to help your body and mind de-stress:

Exercise

Exercise is physical activity that’s great at helping get a good night’s sleep. And improved sleep means you have more energy to commit to managing stressful feelings. It’s still a bit of a medical mystery as to why, but people who exercise frequently usually have better deep “slow wave” sleep that helps refresh the mind and body. Exercise also helps improve a lot of people’s general mood. This may be because your body’s more stimulated and prepared to release more hormones, like endorphins and endocannabinoids that help reduce pain and give you quality rest. 

Don’t Bottle Up Emotions

It’s normal to want to be able to handle things on your own and not burden others, but it’s important not to take it too far. You’re only human, and everyone needs help sometimes! If there are things stressing you out, find a context to talk about them with someone to help lower your stress. You can speak with family members, friends, a trusted teammate, your doctor, or a professional therapist. Importantly, you can also always talk to yourself if you feel willing to listen.

This is called “self talk,” and while we all do it, it needs to be positive for it to help you reduce stress. So be sure to listen closely to your thoughts, feelings, and comments when you’re stressed out, and focus on telling yourself the things you can do instead of what seems hard or impossible in the moment. You’ve got this!

Eat A Balanced Diet

Eating a diet that incorporates lots of different nutrients will help you feel better and be healthier in general. It may also help you control mood swings and stressful symptoms. Make sure your meals include lots of vegetables, plenty of fruit, whole grains, and lean protein so you have plenty of different sources for energy. Stay on top of your daily diet and food types so you always know you’re giving your body what it needs so you have the energy to fight off stress.

Eliminate Stressful Triggers

The causes of stress in your life are the most important things to get a handle on. Determine what the biggest areas of stress are in your life to better understand what you need to do to reduce stressful situations. For example, do you feel especially stressed  at your job, during your commute, or while trying to do well on your schoolwork? If you know what you’re stressed about and what your triggers are, do your best to eliminate them from your life, or at least reduce exposure to them.

If you’re having trouble identifying the main areas of your stressful feelings, you can try keeping a stress journal so you can go back and look at what was causing your stress before. In the journal, you can make note of when you become very stressed to see if there’ a pattern, then you can focus on finding ways to reduce those triggers.

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