When life gets hectic, we take stress for granted. Who does not experience stress at some point in their lives? Yet, mental stress can create problems with well-being and lead to more severe disorders. The mental aspect does not exist in a vacuum, either. If your mental health is in jeopardy, your physical and emotional states may also be.
Learn how to deal with mental stress and improve your mental health to avoid worsening conditions like anxiety and depression.
Tips for dealing with mental stress and improving mental health.
Stress can lead to physical complications and emotional instability. Stress triggers a cascade of hormones to make you fight, flee, or freeze. Unfortunately, when these stress hormones stay at high levels for an extended period, you can develop mental conditions, chronic inflammation, muscle and joint pain, headaches, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and Type II diabetes.
Getting a handle on stress early is key to preventing these debilitating conditions. You can do things to lower your risk and manage mental stress. Follow the tips below to get started.
Slow down and say no.
Stress is often caused by overextending ourselves with commitments, trying to stretch finances when things are tight, or allowing others to make decisions on our behalf. Learning to slow down and say no to opportunities (even some good opportunities) is a way to break away from busyness.
Choose to do things that are important to you and feed your soul. You do not have to belong to every board or club in town or at church. You can learn to budget and not overspend to live within your means to remove some of the financial burdens you feel. You can say no and create boundaries where other people are concerned if they volunteer you for specific events or tasks.
Creating boundaries and kindly declining invitations is not rude. It is a part of self-care. Your job is to protect your mental health by lowering your mental stress. You are one person with one life to live. You cannot simultaneously be in two (or three or four) places. Choose carefully what events and tasks get your time and attention.
Engage in physical activity.
Endorphins are the natural painkillers and muscle relaxers our brains produce when we exercise. Physical exertion causes the brain to release hormones that make us feel safe and happy, relax tense muscles, and improve our self-esteem and perspective. Our entire mood changes when we exercise.
Get your primary care physician’s clearance before you engage in physical activity, then do something fun. Exercise does not have to be boring. You may find that your mental stress levels lower when you do specific sweaty exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or power walking/jogging. Set a goal to try a new workout.
You can find free and paid workouts online. If you want a coached session, check in with your local gym and ask about their personal trainer consultations. If anything, a personal trainer can get you started on a few go-to exercises in the correct form.
To avoid stress and chronic inflammation, eat healthy foods and avoid heavily processed and junk foods. Foods high in sodium can raise blood pressure, increase swelling and bloating, and contribute to internal inflammation.
Instead, choose lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats at each meal. Ensure you eat a few hours apart throughout the day, as skipping meals will lower your energy levels and fog your thinking. It is easy to forget to eat when busyness has you running in different directions.
Feeding yourself well is another way to demonstrate self-care. Promise yourself that you will provide your body with healthy food at least 90% to 95% of the time. This allows you to still have some extra fun at birthday parties and functions.
Does your mind wake you during the night running with every worry and fear it can dredge up? Do you have trouble falling asleep and lying there replaying mistakes and concerns in your head? Mental stress plays on our weaknesses. We know we need sleep to function the next day. But it seems that the more we struggle to fall asleep, the harder it is.
To reduce stress, begin an evening routine when you come home from work. A routine signals your brain that it is almost bedtime. This can be cleaning the kitchen after dinner, folding a load of laundry and putting it away, taking a quick bath or shower, and reading a chapter from a book. The goal is to wind down after a long day.
Whatever routine you decide on, practice it for at least a month before calling it quits. It takes close to a month to ingrain good habits into a person.
Cut back on caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.
Just as eating healthier will make you feel better, avoiding foods and substances jeopardizing your health is as important. For example, caffeine from coffee and tea can speed up your heart rate. Unfortunately, the acid in coffee can also contribute to heartburn and acid reflux, both common digestive issues people face with stress.
Excess sugar and over-consuming alcohol also contribute to chronic inflammation. This inflammation will lead to physical conditions and diseases. Extra sugar raises your risk for Type II diabetes and obesity. Drinking too much alcohol can leave you not caring one way or another about what people think. Although being vulnerable is commendable, over-drinking can lead to alcoholism, mood swings, and anger.
Keep track of what foods and drinks you consume. Note the time and how each meal left you feeling. Do you see a pattern in your notes? Are there specific foods and beverages that you should remove from your diet if you want to feel better? Give yourself a trial run without this food. Try it for one week.
Know your triggers.
Do you know what triggers are making your stress worse? Is it feeling out of control and overwhelmed? Is it loneliness? How about anger or memories from a traumatic event? You are one step closer to dealing with mental stress if you can recognize the trigger and get help from a professional.
If you are not sure about your triggers, speak with a counselor. They may be able to point out your triggers by the way you talk and how you look around the room. Sometimes a trigger can be something subtle like a scent. Or it can be something loud and sudden, like a car backfiring.
Some triggers compound. Maybe you felt fine until you realized you had a deadline quickly approaching, and your work was still incomplete. This scenario increases your stress level, but what if you are worried that if you do not meet the deadline, you will lose your job and you are a single parent? Now, the mental stress level has increased exponentially.
Now imagine meeting your deadline and feeling the sudden rush of relief, only to remember that your job expects you to work at the same pace all the time. Chronic stress is the result. Your fear of what will happen to your child if you lose income is the catalyst for mental stress.
Eventually, you will want to look for a new job that does not place as much stress on you. By staying calm during the job search while still meeting your deadline and doing something despite the stress and fear, you are more likely to land a better job that fits in with your priorities.
Know when to get help.
Do not take your mental health for granted. Mental stress can worsen and lead to disorders like anxiety, depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), eating disorders, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
If it seems like the stress is taking a toll on your physical and mental health, reach out to our office today to speak with a counselor. A counselor will work with you to strategize ways to lower your stress and avoid exacerbating mental disorder symptoms.
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