Everyone experiences stress. Whether it is caused by a fight with someone, growing bills, or just feeling overwhelmed by daily responsibilities, stress can harm both physical and mental health. Stress is not inherently a bad thing; however, the way in which people cope with it can be. In fact, 54 percent of people in the United States are concerned about their levels of stress and not everyone copes with it effectively. Majority of these people still have to learn ways to manage stress.
Everyone’s definition of stress is different, making it hard to define, but it can be defined by the way the body reacts to it. In some cases, stress can be beneficial. For example, feeling stress over an important test can cause a person to spend more time and energy preparing for it. In other scenarios, stress can cause anxiety. In many ways, stress is similar to the “fight or flight response,” which is part of the reason people react to situations differently; however, if a person undergoes long periods of stress, it can lead to several health problems. Chronic stress can cause a weakened immune system, fatigue or depression, and even drive the sufferer to use substances as a form of self-medication.
For some, substance abuse is a means of coping with stress. Drugs and alcohol can produce euphoric feelings that may make a person feel as if they are escaping their problems. This can lead to a cycle of use in which a person gradually increases use as a means of coping with stressors. Even with short-term use, regular consumption of drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medication can lead to dependency and addiction. Although it can feel as though substance use alleviates feelings of stress, it only masks—and potentially worsens—the problem.
Although substance use may temporarily remove feelings of stress and make a person feel good, it only compounds the problems a person experiences. In addition to the stress a person is already experiencing, substance abuse can strain relationships and make it difficult to perform effectively at work. The longer the cycle of abuse continues, the more compounded the problems become, causing a person to rely more heavily on drugs and alcohol. This only worsens the situation and results in more stress than before.
Coping with Stress in a Healthy Way
While it is impossible to completely eliminate stress from our lives, it is possible to manage it in a healthy way. There are numerous activities and practices a person can engage in to reduce feelings of stress and improve mood. This may include:
- Exercise: Exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Not only is it a healthy activity that can make you look and feel good, it’s also a great way to connect with others. Whether you choose to hit the gym or join a team sport, exercise elevates your heart rate, gives you energy, and improves mood. Pick an activity you enjoy, whether this is dancing, swimming, running, cycling, or yoga. It is important to focus thoughts on the activity at hand which can help break the cycle of negative thoughts that often accompany stress.
- Socialize: Socializing with friends and family is one of the quickest ways to reduce stress. Having a good listener who you trust can help alleviate feelings of stress. They may also be a great resource in helping you find a way to cope with stressful situations or feelings. While they do not need to be physically present to help, having face-to-face interactions is always better. Plan a lunch date, go out to an event, or volunteer to reconnect with old friends or make new ones.
- Get creative: Having a creative outlet can help a person de-stress. Whether this is painting, writing, playing music, or knitting, having a fun, unique outlet to express yourself can help redirect stress into artistic expression.
- Explore: Sometimes a change of scenery can help reduce stress. Getting outdoors is a great way to leave stress behind and enjoy the world around you. Going on a hike, kayaking, or traveling to a neighboring city can help a person regain focus and distract them from thoughts or places that encourage stress.
- Learn to say “no”: While you cannot remove stressors completely, there are ways to reduce stress. By learning to say “no” and differentiating between “should” and “must,” you can eliminate unnecessary stress. Do not feel compelled to take on more than you can handle to satisfy others. If a person or situation is a source of stress in your life, take steps to change it. Taking control of your environment is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress. If you cannot avoid a stressful person or situation, take steps to alter your relationship with it.