Battling Stress- The Lifelong Challenge
The Ultimate Guide to Leading a Less Stressed Life
So, what is stress? Stress is any change in the environment or world around you that requires your body and mind to react and adjust in response. Physical, mental, and emotional responses are all a part of how your body tries to cope with stress. At the most basic level, we try to adapt to pressures from a situation or life event, causing stress.
Based on our social and economic circumstances, the world we live in, and our genetic makeup, what triggers our stress and to what degree varies greatly. Some common stressors include big and unexpected change, a challenge to your sense of self, feeling out of control, being responsible for a large event, and so much more.
Stress causes our bodies to produce stress hormones that trigger a “flight or fight” response and activate our immune systems. While technically that is a good thing and helps us to react quickly to things that might be dangerous, that response can also tire out our bodies and if the situation is common in our lives leads us to always feel like we have to fight, flee, or freeze.
The resulting feeling of being under pressure can help us to push through situations we might be nervous about, like getting the courage up to speak out about something, and in those situations, we can quickly return to a comfortable resting state because what was stressing us out and overcome. Most of us, in fact, can deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.
However, when stress is excessive and too much to deal with, and if our stress response is activated repeatedly or it persists over time, it can cause serious wear and tear on our bodies. This can make us feel like we’re permanently in a state of “fight or flight.” When our situations are like this, it can be very difficult to cope and move on to a relaxed state.
Feeling overwhelmed for a long period of time is referred to as chronic, or long-term stress, and can impact both physical and mental health. For people who are already dealing with chronic mental or physical conditions, this can be especially harmful.
What are the Signs of Stress?
Anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, or frustration are all common emotional responses to stress. These feelings often feed on each other and produce physical symptoms, making you feel even worse. For some, stressful life events can make their current depression feel much worse.
Work-related stress can also negatively impact mental and physical health. In fact, work-related stress accounts for roughly 24 days of missed work for every person affected.
Often, stressed people behave a bit differently. You might become withdrawn, indecisive, or stubborn about certain things. Sleep problems are also frequently related to stress. Becoming irritable or tearful is also very common. Having less or more sex, using substances to cope, and bouts of angry outbursts are also not uncommon responses to stress. And what can feel the worst, is when you start to treat your friends and family differently because you’re so stressed. Often you don’t mean to snap at those around you, but because you’re so affected by the stress you lash out in an exaggerated “fight response.”
When stressed, you may notice you get headaches, nausea, or have an upset stomach. You might hyperventilate, perspire more, experience palpitations, or become achy and sore. If the stress is short-lived, you’ll like feel better rather quickly. However, if it doesn’t get resolved or is a chronic issue, these symptoms may persist for a long while. Long-term stress can even affect your sleep and memory, your eating habits, and your activity levels.
Some research has also linked long-term stress to gastrointestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and stomach ulcers as well as conditions like cardiovascular disease. As someone with anxiety disorder, I can tell you that chronic stomach problems certainly affect me.
Who is Affected by Stress?
Short answer: all of us. Most people have felt stressed and overwhelmed at some point, and some people are more affected by stress than others. For those people, leaving the house each morning can be a very stressful experience. Whereas others may be able to cope.
Some groups of people can also be more likely to experience stressful life events and situations. For instances, those living with a lot of debt or experiencing financial insecurity are more likely to experience stress linked to money, people from minority ethnic groups or those who are LGBTQIA+ are often more likely to experience stress because of prejudice and discrimination, and those with pre-existing or ongoing health problems can be more likely to experience stress related to their health or because of the stigma associated with their condition.
How Does Stress Affect Health?
The human body was designed to react to stress and process it. Stress can be positive like when you get a promotion or get married, and it can keep us alert and ready to avoid danger. It can become negative however when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or resolve between challenges. That person becomes overworked and stress-related tension mounts.
Distress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, high blood pressure, chest pain, and trouble sleeping. Research suggests that it also can start or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Stress also becomes harmful when people turn to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs for relief. Unfortunately, instead of relieving the stress and allowing the body to relax, these substances actually tend to keep the body in that stressed state and cause further issues. This about this:
- 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress
- 75 to 90% of all doctor's office visits pertain to stress-related ailments and complaints
- Stress can affect conditions like headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a workplace hazard
- Stress-related issues cost the American industry over $300 billion each year
- The lifetime pervasiveness of an emotional disorder for those in the US is over 50%, and often because of chronic, untreated stress
How Can You Help Yourself?
There are things you can do to help yourself cope with stress as it happens so that it doesn’t become overwhelming, hopefully. There are always going to be unexpected circumstances and events that challenge you, but when you educate yourself on how to manage some of the stress and regularly practice those techniques, it can help you so much in the long run.
One important thing to mention, you never have to handle everything on your own. If things feel like they’re too much to handle, get help. Talking with a professional about your mental state is always a good idea, and you should never let any perceived stigma about speaking to a therapist keep you from getting the help you need.
You didn’t fail if you need help. Everyone needs help sometimes and being sure of yourself enough to ask for it is actually a sign of great maturity.
The first person to approach is your primary doctor. They should be able to advise you regarding treatment and may refer you to a mental health professional. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be helpful in reducing stress because it helps to change the way we think about stressful situations. Other psychosocial interventions can be helpful as well like interpersonal counseling and mindfulness-based approaches. A mental health professional will also be able to tell if there is an underlying condition that is affecting your stress levels.
You can also think about the following.
Identify when stress is causing a problem and identify the causes
When you are working to tackle stress a crucial first step is naming the physical and emotional signs you experience and determining what types of triggers are most likely to cause your stress. Headaches, migraines, tense muscles, grinding your teeth. These can all be ways you physically react to stress among several others.
When you know that you’re experiencing stress, the next step is to try to determine what is causing it. There will likely be more than one thing causing you stress. After all, the world is a complicated place. When you have a list of your stressors, divide them into things you can control and do something about, things that just need time, and things you can’t control. From there, you can take steps to do something about the things you can change.
You’ll also want to work with yourself to set realistic expectations and prioritize essential commitments. Ask for help with tasks that you can delegate. And truly look at the things you can’t control. You can’t control them. That can be infuriating, but a way to help combat the stress that accompanies those things is to remind yourself of that fact and to do your best at spending as little time worrying over those things as you can. You’ll think about them, you’ll probably still get a bit stressed, but focusing on what you can change and accepting the things you can’t, will help to keep it manageable.
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time, and studies have shown that it can be helpful for managing and reducing the effects of stress, anxiety, and other related problems in some people. You can learn more about mindfulness and massage here.
Don't be too hard on yourself
Beating yourself up about what could have been done, your performance, or how you’re handling stress doesn’t do anything to improve the situation. While it is certainly easier said than done, try to look for things in your life that are positive and jot down things that make you feel grateful.
Get a Massage
Lastly, massage can be a hugely beneficial tool in the fight against stress. In fact, a new study by psychologists at the University of Konstanz in Germany has scientifically measured and confirmed that massage and relaxation techniques can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and help you to manage stress.
In their paper, the researchers said that short periods of relaxation can be psychologically and physiologically regenerative and massage works to heighten those effects.
The senior author, Prof. Jens Pruessner of the university’s Neuropsychology lab and a member of the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour,” explained the importance of the new research:
“To get a better handle on the negative effects of stress, we need to understand its opposite — relaxation. Relaxation therapies show great promise as a holistic way to treat stress, but [a] more systematic scientific appraisal of these methods is needed.”
For the study, the participants were divided into three groups. The first group received 10-minute head-and-neck massages with moderate pressure that worked to stimulate the vagus nerve. This nerve contains 75% of the PSNS nerve fibers, branching out to organs in the body.
The second group of individuals received 10-minute neck-and-shoulder massages with much softer pressure to determine if even simple contact could activate the PSNS. The third control group simply sat at a table relaxing for 10 minutes.
The researchers used both physiological and psychological measurements to evaluate how each intervention, or lack of, had activated the participants’ PSNS. They measured the participants’ heart rates and their heart rate variability, which looks at the time lengths between heartbeats.
For example, when the body is in “fight-or-flight” mode, there isn’t much variation because your heart is beating quickly at a steady pace, giving you a low HRV value. When the body is relaxed, you’ll see more variation, giving you a higher HRV.
All of the participants had dramatically higher HRV levels following their sessions. However, the most dramatic increases in HRV belonged to those who had received massages and it wasn’t tied to the type of massage received. Simple tactile contact proved to be just as effective for relaxation as a massage designed specifically to activate the PSNS.
All participants also reported feeling less stressed and more relaxed following the tests.
Overall, the experiment confirmed that just taking a few moments to relax can help you manage stress, and pairing that time with massage can be even more effective at activating the PSNS and alleviating the physical and mental effects of stress.
Neuropsychology doctoral student Maria Meier who led the team concluded, “We are very encouraged by the findings that short periods of disengagement are enough to relax not just the mind but also the body. You don’t need [...]professional treatment [...]to relax. Having somebody gently stroke your shoulders, or even just resting your head on the table for 10 minutes, is an effective way to boost your body’s physiological engine of relaxation.”
This study is good news, and hopefully, we’ll see more to come. The fact of the matter is that relaxation enhanced with massage is an excellent way to manage stress and can help your body to find that necessary downtime after and during stressful events.
We’ll never be able to completely abolish stress, but with techniques like massage and the convenient at-home way to get one through a massage chair, we can help ourselves to manage our stress symptoms, both mental and physical, so that we can perform our best and avoid the long-term negative effects that chronic stress can cause.
Your everyday mental health is important and finding a way to manage the pressure we find ourselves under each day is crucial to your overall health and wellbeing. A massage chair can be a fantastic tool to help you with that.
With that in mind, don’t forget about our financing options. We understand that investing in a massage chair is a big decision, and we want to help make that process as simple and stress-free as possible.
If you have any questions about massage chairs and how they might provide a relaxing, stress-relieving experience, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re available over the phone or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.