Did you know stress can be good for you? In fact, not only can stress be good for you, stress can be motivating, exciting, and even thrilling. So, when your heart is racing and palms are sweating while trying to meet that deadline, do not panic. Our bodies have a way of protecting us from these moments in life.
For example, a neurotransmitter called oxytocin—also known as the cuddle hormone—is released by the pituitary gland when we are racing against the clock, for example. This stress hormone acts on both our brain and our body—motivating us to reach out to people for support, while at the same time calming our body.
Oxytocin also relaxes the cardiovascular system, aids in the reduction of inäammation—a leading cause of chronic pain and illness—and helps to regenerate new heart cells. In other words, oxytocin strengthens our hearts, both literally and ãguratively.
It is when stress becomes “chronic distress” that it can be harmful to one’s health. Fear, unrealistic expectations, worrying about the future, repetitive thought patterns, over-scheduling, isolating, or procrastination can all turn what was once positive stress into negative distress. As a result, our mental and physical health can become compromised.
If the stress in your life has turned to distress, no worries. There is hope. Because negative stress is a response to an adverse situation or event, not the negative event itself, you have control over how you respond. In other words, it is not stress, per se, that wreaks havoc on your mental and physical well-being, but how you choose to deal with that stress. Therefore, it is imperative to learn healthy ways to manage negative stress.
Below are a few simple strategies for reducing distress put out by the American Psychological Association (APA):
Identify what’s causing stress. Monitor your state of mind throughout the day. If you feel stressed, write down the cause, your thoughts and your mood. Once you know what’s bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it. That might mean setting more reasonable expectations for yourself and others or asking for help with household responsibilities, job assignments or other tasks. List all your commitments, assess your priorities and then eliminate any tasks that are not absolutely essential.
Build strong relationships. Relationships can be a source of stress. Research has found that negative, hostile reactions with your spouse cause immediate changes in stress-sensitive hormones, for example. But relationships can also serve as stress buffers. Reach out to family members or close friends and let them know you’re having a tough time. They may be able to offer practical assistance and support, useful ideas or just a fresh perspective as you begin to tackle whatever’s causing your stress.
Walk away when you’re angry. Before you react, take time to regroup by counting to 10. Then reconsider. Walking or other physical activities can also help you work off steam. Plus, exercise increases the production of endorphins, your body’s natural mood-booster. Commit to a daily walk or other form of exercise — a small step that can make a big difference in reducing stress levels.
Rest your mind. According to APA’s 2012 Stress in America Survey, stress keeps more than 40 percent of adults lying awake at night. To help ensure you get the recommended seven or eight hours of shut-eye, cut back on caffeine, remove distractions such as television or computers from your bedroom and go to bed at the same time each night. Research shows that activities like yoga and relaxation exercises not only help reduce stress, but also boost immune functioning.
Get help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional who can help you learn how to manage stress effectively. He or she can help you identify situations or behaviors that contribute to your chronic stress and then develop an action plan for changing them.