Getting a Handle on Stress

By Sue Sveum | Photo from Shutterstock

Stress is a fact of life — but how we handle it makes all the difference. Amanda Van Elzen, nurse educator at Associated Physicians, sees her share of patients with stress. And according to Van Elzen, stress can be short- or long-term.

“Both can cause difficulty sleeping and put a strain on work productivity and relationships,” she says, “which can negatively impact your happiness, job performance and even income.” The effects of stress affect you both physically and mentally. You’ve probably experienced one or more of these common symptoms:

Physical

  • Fight or flight response
  • GI upset
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Headaches

Mental

  • Heaviness in your chest
  • Difficulty communicating, straining your personal and professional relationships
  • Feeling tired, anxious or depressed
  • Quick to anger, more emotional than usual
  • Trouble making decisions, solving problems or concentrating

According to Van Elzen, it’s important to recognize and address stress, for several reasons.

“When our brain senses imminent danger, it triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, that keep us safe in emergent situations,” she explains. “But too much, or repetitive high levels of these stress hormones can have adverse effects on our minds and body — causing fatigue, anxiety and depression, heart disease, weight gain and increased risk of diabetes.” There are many healthy ways a person can alleviate stress — including reading, walking outside, meditation, exercise, chatting with a close friend or even binging your favorite Netflix show.

“With our busy personal and family schedules, taking time for stress relief may seem impossible some days, but even doing breathing exercises for five minutes before you fall asleep reduces your stress and stress hormone levels,” says Van Elzen. “Make it a nightly routine, and it can help you fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.”

Similarly, meditation and mindfulness are great ways to help you achieve inner calm — and you can do it anywhere, anytime.

Talking with a therapist can also do wonders for your mental health. They’ll help you manage your stress by listening, giving you tools to re-train your brain into a positive mindset
and help you deal with setbacks or traumatic experiences.

In fact, just changing your mindset from negative thoughts to positive ones has proven to change how you feel, creating a more satisfying personal and professional life. “Negative thoughts can distort our perception of experiences, leading to physical and mental symptoms, mood and anxiety disorders, and overall unhappiness,” she explains. “Besides, no one wants to be around someone that’s negative all the time!”

Having a rich and healthy diet can lead to a rich and healthy mind, as well — especially if you get creative in the kitchen. Meal prepping is a great way to try new recipes — and have weeknight dinners prepared in advance, helping to reduce nighttime stress.

Whatever your stress relief looks like, it’s important to make the time to do it — to help with both short- term and long-term stress,” says Van Elzen. “When you’re in a positive and less stressed mindset, you’ll be happier and healthier, both mentally and physically.”


This article is sponsored by Associated Physicians.

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