Do you feel overwhelmed, stressed, and unsure about the future? You are not alone. Studies show that many are feeling remarkable levels of stress. While everyone experiences stress from time to time, when stress levels stay high for a long period, serious health consequences can result.
If you are experiencing stress and chaos in your life, it’s important to identify the causes and take steps to lower your stress level, take care of yourself, and build strength and resilience going forward.
Read on to learn more about the physical impact of stress, and simple practices you can adopt to help you cope better.
The Emotional and Physical Toll of Stress
In a 2019 Gallup survey of moods around the globe, 55% of Americans said they had felt stressed the previous day – much higher than the global average of 33%. People under 50 and those with a low income had the highest levels of stress.
In addition to stress, many people are also experiencing other negative moods. For example, loneliness is a significant issue that has roughly the same health impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness increases the risk of heart disease by 29%, and the risk of stroke by 32%. Sadly, 40% of adults sometimes or always feel that their social relationships are not meaningful, and almost half say they feel lonely or socially isolated at least some of the time.
Both stress and loneliness can contribute to more serious mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. Rates of anxiety are growing, and it’s worse for children than adults. Estimates suggest that as many as 32% of adolescents experience anxiety. Around 18% of the population have an anxiety disorder. Depression is also very common, with around 7% of population experiencing a major depressive episode each year.
In addition to the increased risk of mood disorders, stress also affects our physical health. In the short term, stress can cause headaches, muscle pain, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, and a lowered immune system. Stress can also worsen asthma, arthritis, and skin problems such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. In the long term, stress increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and dementia.
If thinking about the negative effects of stress is increasing your stress levels, that’s normal. Fortunately, stress, while serious, can be managed. Stress reduction starts with simple self-care such as getting enough sleep, exercise, healthy food, and connecting meaningfully with others. Once you have the basics down, soothing practices such as meditation, connecting with nature, and practicing gratitude will help you build the internal resources to keep your calm, no matter what life throws at you.
Identifying What Makes You Worried and Stressed
In small doses, stress can be healthy and inspiring. When you stare down a difficult run on the ski hill, wait behind the curtain before you step out to give a speech, or walk into a new job for a first time, the butterflies you feel in your stomach are caused by stress. A little stress fires us up and gets us ready meet new challenges head-on.
Unfortunately, too much stress has the opposite effect, and can result in serious health consequences, as discussed above.
Humans tend to feel stress any time we experience change or loss. Common sources of stress including negative events, such the loss of a friend or family member, a serious health problem, a traumatic event such as a crime or natural disaster, or financial difficulties. Positive events such as starting a new job, getting married, or moving homes can also be very stressful because these events involve both the uncertainty of new situations, and the loss of the familiar.
Work and school are major sources of stress, with 40% of people experiencing stress at work, and 80% of college students saying that they feel stress sometimes or often. Stress at work and at school can have many causes, and many are similar: worries about performance, interpersonal struggles with colleagues and bosses (or fellow students and teachers), financial worries, and overwhelm from too much to do and too little time to do it.
Worry about the news and world events, as well as the personal effects that larger forces may have, are also major sources of stress. For people in marginalized and minority communities, worries about the news may be more urgent: these groups are more likely to be affected in difficult economic times, and are likely to experience more negative effects from climate change and pollution.
Whatever the cause of your stress, it can be managed. Simple self-care strategies can help you manage stress and perform at your best. In addition to following the self-care suggestions laid out in the next section, consider talking to a therapist or a life coach about your specific stressors. These experts can help you navigate your specific situation and teach you coping skills that are tailored to your own strengths and weaknesses. If you are in serious distress, speak to your doctor. There are many treatments that can help manage the negative effects of stress on your body, and help you feel better soon.
Even if the toxic person is your close relative, the experience of letting go of them will be a blessing in your life more than you may think. When someone is genuinely toxic, they won’t change no matter how much you beg, so letting them go will help you make your life less stressful and a lot more successful.
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