How to Recognize and Manage Stress

Our body has a way of communicating to us – whether it be a grumbling stomach when we are hungry or a yawn when we are tired – allowing us to recognize what we need when we need it. However, when we experience feelings associated with stress, these indications might be a bit harder to distinguish and even harder to figure out how to treat.


Good vs. Bad Stress

Don’t stress over stress! There is often the belief that any kind of stress is something to avoid, or that automatically makes us feel bad. In reality, stress is merely a response our body activates when we face physical or emotional pressure. Take for example a deadline at work or school – our stress response will activate and cause us to stay motivated and work harder to meet the deadline (aka the stressor). These types of non-life-threatening situations are called “good stress,” and in small doses, it gives us the push we may need to complete a task.


Our familiarity with “bad stress” is something that is all too common. When faced with negative life events, big challenges, or an immense amount of pressure, we may notice physical, emotional, and mental symptoms, and when this is experienced for long periods of time (something called chronic stress), that’s where problems can arise.


What Happens When We Face a Stressful Situation?

Although stress can manifest in symptoms we can feel, it actually starts in our brain. Let’s say you are driving, and the person in front of you unexpectedly slams on the breaks, causing you to do the same. Even though it only lasted a few seconds and the environment around you is no longer causing a threat to your safety, you may still experience symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, or high blood pressure because your body has triggered a stress response.


During a stress response, or what is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response, the brain’s alarm system goes off and activates a rush of adrenalin, causing those physical symptoms. When adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) charges through our blood during that moment, the heart can beat faster, breathing can ramp up, and various other bodily responses become activated to assist us during the perceived threat. After the adrenaline begins to lessen, the second part of the stress response begins, but if we still perceive the situation as a threat, various hormones travel throughout our brain, which eventually releases the hormone cortisol – the body’s main stress hormone. Once the threat is over, cortisol levels will go down, and the stress response is over.


Although we may not be exposed to an extreme threat daily, there are still many other situations that may seem small that can lead to feelings of stress and trigger a response. When experienced for long periods of time, it can take a toll on the body and that is when you may notice more and more symptoms, both physically and mentally, that you might not think are even related, but that can impact your day-to-day life.


How Does Stress Appear in the Body?

Besides the symptoms that appear during a stress response when we are exposed to an instant threat to safety, there are symptoms that can appear differently when we experience stressful situations that are not life-threatening, but that still trigger feelings of stress. This can be more long-term stressors like paying bills, taking care of your family, a heavy workload, getting good grades, etc.


Physically, stress can cause feelings such as aches and pains, headaches, muscle tension, and exhaustion, which can also lead to other more complex symptoms like high blood pressure, sleep problems, digestive problems, or a weakened immune system. As well, since stress can cause inflammation in the body, it can lead to several chronic health conditions which bring on additional physical symptoms.


Mentally, stress can also take a large toll. It can cause us to experience feelings such as worry, irritability, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, anger, feeling unmotivated, an inability to concentrate, problems with memory, and sadness. Too much stress can also cause burnout, which you may have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Burnout can occur when our body experiences stress for a long period of time, and it causes those who go through it to feel drained, physically, and emotionally exhausted or feel like they have an inability to cope.


Everyone experiences stress. However, it is important to recognize these symptoms and call them out so you can better manage them. If you find you are experiencing stress in your day-to-day life that feels too overwhelming, talking to a healthcare professional is the best route to take as they can help you in dealing with stress. In tandem with that, there are several stress-management tips and tricks you can implement in your life that may help with some of the stress-related symptoms you feel.


If you would like to get a jump start on your stress-reducing journey, contact one of our massage therapists to make an appointment with one of our experienced massage therapists.


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