After the events of the past three years, it will perhaps come as no surprise that Americans are facing incredibly high levels of stress. More people than ever would describe themselves as “stressed out.” In fact, a survey conducted by the APA “shows a battered American psyche, facing a barrage of external stressors that are mostly out of personal control. The survey found a majority of adults are disheartened by government and political divisiveness, daunted by historic inflation levels, and dismayed by widespread violence.”
But what does stressed out actually mean? And even more importantly, what can we do about feeling this way?
Stressed Out Meaning
What is the true meaning of stressed out? Well, stress is the body’s reaction to any demand for change. It can be a response to physical, emotional, or mental pressure and has both positive and negative forms. Positive stress, such as the kind you feel before exams or an important presentation, can motivate you to perform better. In contrast, negative stress can have serious health consequences if left unchecked.
When you’re feeling copious amounts of stress or like you’re not as resilient to the normal levels of stress you experience, this might be when you describe yourself as “stressed out.” Keep in mind, however, this threshold can be different for everyone.
There are chemical and physical reactions to stress, such as elevated heart rate, release of stress hormones, increased blood sugar, and other changes. If stress continues for an extended period of time, it can lead to serious health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, and an increased risk of stroke or heart attack.
Let’s talk more about these consequences of ongoing, chronic stress next.
The Consequences of Stress
There are many reasons why being chronically stressed out can become a serious issue. Here are just five of the big ones.
1. It can damage your relationships
If you’re stressed out, it can be difficult to maintain healthy relationships with the people around you. Stress often leads to irritability and a lack of patience, making conversations tense or even volatile.
2. It can impact your physical health
Chronic stress puts extra strain on your body, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious illnesses. It’s also associated with unintentional weight changes. It can also weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to viruses and infections.
3. It can lead to poor decision making
Stress is known to reduce our ability to think clearly and make rational decisions. This can hugely impact our lives both in the short-term and long term.
4. It can affect your sleep quality
Sleep woes are one of the most common side effects of stress. Insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders are often linked to high levels of stress.
5. It can lead to mental health issues
Understandably, chronic stress is closely associated with depression, anxiety, and other serious mental health conditions. In turn, it’s important to address this issue early on if you’re experiencing it in order to reduce the risk of long-term damage.
Managing Stress: Tips and Techniques
The good news is there are ways to manage your stress levels so you can feel less stressed out. Here are some tips and techniques to get started:
Get plenty of rest
How much sleep do you average each night? If it’s not the recommended 7-9 hours, then you may be at an increased risk for stress. Therefore, prioritizing rest is vital for both physical and mental health.
To improve your sleep quality, limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol, avoid napping during the day, establish a relaxing bedtime routine, and create a comfortable sleep environment. For example, you might get blackout curtains, invest in new bedding, or use a white noise machine to drown out background noises.
Look for ways to relax
Relaxation techniques can be incredibly helpful in managing stress levels. Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are all great examples of relaxation techniques that can help you feel more rested and balanced. If you’re new to these activities, plenty of resources are available online, and many free apps that offer guided meditations or breathing exercises.
Vagus nerve stimulation
One useful tool for relaxing and managing stress you might not have considered is vagus nerve stimulation. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and helps control various of the body’s most important functions, including respiration, heart rate, and digestion. However, when this nerve is un-toned or under-stimulated, it can mean you’re less resilient to stress and can result in many physical symptoms.
But luckily, vagus nerve stimulation devices can help you re-tone the nerve and reduce stress from the comfort of your home. You might also try other methods for vagus nerve stimulation, such as cold immersion, singing or humming, and breathing exercises.
Practice positive thinking
Our thoughts have a powerful impact on how we feel—so if you’re stressed out, try to focus on the positive instead. For example, writing down three things you’re grateful for each day or even just smiling more often can both be effective ways to boost your mood and manage stress.
Organization is essential for keeping our lives running smoothly and reducing stress. Try taking time each day to plan out your schedule for the next day, so you know exactly what needs to be done. Also, set aside time for yourself away from work or school so you can relax and recharge.
Talk it out
Communicating with a friend, family member, or professional therapist can be a powerful way to manage stress. Sharing your struggles with someone is crucial so you don’t feel overwhelmed or isolated. A qualified therapist can also help you identify strategies and coping mechanisms explicitly tailored to your needs.
Remember to take care of yourself
Self-care is essential for managing stress levels. Make sure to set aside time each day to do something that brings you joy, such as reading, taking a walk outside, listening to music, or cooking a healthy meal. Taking care of yourself will help ensure your body and mind stay strong in the face of adversity.
Now that you know the basics of managing stress, you can start to explore different techniques and find what works best for your lifestyle. Every person is unique, so be sure to take it slow and give yourself time to adjust. With these tips in your back pocket, you’ll soon be on your way to feeling less stressed out every day!