In a world of constant demands and ever-changing expectations, humans are often prone to anxiety and stress. The presence of stress is a natural response that can be experienced physically and mentally in life. Stress is typically a short-term response that is situational, but when stress is experienced over extended periods it can become chronic.
For instance, an argument with your partner can trigger a stress response, whereas constantly arguing with your partner daily can cause chronic stress. Short-term stress responses can help your body regulate new environments and situations. Stress can be healthy in small amounts to keep us motivated and alert, but prolonged stress can negatively impact the human experience and daily activities.
When Does Stress Become Chronic?
When a person experiences prolonged stress it can cause wear and tear on the body. Common physical symptoms of stress include aches, insomnia, lethargy, high blood pressure, stomach, and digestive problems. For many people, it is common to write off physical symptoms as “normal” or “typical” and ignore them until they become worse. These symptoms are not something you should dismiss.
Our bodies often will try and pull the alarm to let us know that something is wrong and to focus our attention on our bodies. When we do not take the time to address the physical response, our bodies will then pull our secondary alarm system which can be seen in the emotional and mental symptoms. Our secondary stress response can be seen in emotional and mental symptoms that can include anxiety, irritability, emotional dysregulation, depression, etc. We need to understand and address our symptoms of stress as they become apparent.
How Can We Relieve Stress?
While we can’t completely avoid stress there are different strategies to aid in stress relief. Short-term stress relief strategies can be done anywhere and at any time. Common short-term stress relief strategies can include meditation & yoga, journaling, deep breathing, taking a walk, and pausing for self-reflection. At times it can feel as if those strategies can be overwhelming. The main goal is to ground yourself and take a step back from the stressor that is present.
Often people will get overwhelmed thinking about meditation and mindfulness activities, thinking that they must be done in a specific way. It is important to remind yourself that meditation and mindfulness activities can be done in any space to help you shift your focus internally.
An example of using meditation can be to work through the Mental Focus Exercise. The Mental Focus Exercise is where you focus on one item or object and try to keep yourself focused on the object. It is important to note when your mind begins to wander to bring yourself back to the object and focus solely on the object’s description and details.
Coping Exercises for Stress
It can also be helpful to work on implementing Full Sensory Awareness Exercise (also called, 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique) throughout the day or when feeling stressed. The Full Sensory Awareness Exercise allows you to check in with your body and your surroundings when feeling disconnected and stressed. It is important to use the senses you have access to such as vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
This exercise can take a few moments or longer if needed. Begin with looking at your surroundings, and as you become aware of your surroundings, note items that your senses can access at the moment. You may begin to feel more grounded in the space you are occupying. Continue to be aware of your breaths by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. The University of Rochester Medical Center offers a comprehensive guided tutorial of the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.
Tips for Managing Chronic Stress
Long-term stress relief strategies are important to aid in the continued practice of managing stress and anxiety. Long-term stress relief strategies can include eating and maintaining a balanced diet, daily self-care, physical exercise, setting boundaries, speaking with a licensed therapist, and taking extended time for rest and recovery.
Maintaining daily strategies and self-care routines can help with keeping stress lowered and avoiding Chronic Stress and Anxiety. It is essential to understand that self-care is done each day and not used as a last resort. Becoming more aware of your stress and addressing them when your body sounds the alarm is imperative to good mental health. It is never too late to begin working towards achieving good mental health and stress relief strategies.
Written By: Janel Wenger, AMFT
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic on (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.