Stress is generally perceived as something negative. It’s a concept that evokes feelings of imbalance and loss of control. However, stress is essential for navigating life. It teaches us to respond to threats and determine if things are safe or dangerous. The bad news is that an overabundance of stress can wreak havoc on our bodies, so the key is maintaining just the right balance.
What Stress Does to the Body
Stress begins a chain reaction in the body that leads to the physical symptoms we observe, and over time, the long-term effects that chronic stress can cause. The perception of a threat triggers nerve signals that transmit a message to your brain.
This unlocks a chain reaction of chemical surges that result in the initial physical symptoms of stress: pounding heart, changes in saliva, rising blood pressure. Acute or short-term stress is good–it means your fight-or-flight response is fully engaged, preparing you to handle life’s disasters, big and small.
Chronic stress, however, means that your body is on constant high alert, causing you to have sustained elevated cortisol levels and inflammation. This can be damaging on the cellular level and with major organ systems, affecting anything from mental health to sleep to even the development of diseases.
Since stress is based on many individual factors, it can be hard to prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to its management. However, there are habits that may stave off the effects wrought by chronic stress which are practiced by calm and happy people regardless of their circumstances.
First, the basics: they exercise regularly and get enough sleep. These two things have the potential to make a drastic impact on our lives, yet sometimes they seem the hardest habits to pick up. Try to find a way to make these things happen. It may involve letting some other things go, but it will be worth it in the long run.
Second, develop healthy mental health behaviors, including saying what you feel, whether this includes gratitude, criticism, or just offering up your honest opinion, even if it won’t be welcomed. Happy, calm people are true to themselves, and as a result, cultivate healthy friendships that help them grow as people.
Third, slow down. Take time to really savor each moment, even when you’re at your busiest. Also, step back from the hectic pace of life now and then to give yourself some time to recharge.
Finally, be true to yourself. Do the things you love to do, and never stop learning. Developing new interests and participating in new experiences will allow your mind to grow, making you into a more adaptable and accepting person who is better able to handle change.