Did you know stress can literally eat away your brain (and potentially making you stupider)? And we’re not being dramatic—it may even kill you!
Today we all have reasons to be stressed. Maybe you feel like you’re out of depth at work or at school, maybe you’ve been fighting with your significant other, or maybe there’re a lot of things to take care about your family.
We’re so used to stress that we tend to think it’s normal. But we may just be overlooking how dangerous being stressed out can be.
Stress can slowly kill us and make our brain smaller.
Science has shown that long-term stress can have serious effects on both your physical and mental health.
For instance, researchers from Yale University have found that stress can lead to the loss of brain connections, and as a result, it shrinks your brain.
Besides, various other studies suggest that if the body is constantly under stress, we’re more likely to develop deadly diseases and conditions such as heart diseases and hypertension. Indeed, up to 75% of adults experience physical stress symptoms, according to the American Psychological Association.
All this only means one thing: stress really can kill you slowly, without you even notice it!
So, the next time you think you’re just tired, try to check if you’re suffering from any of these stress symptoms instead:
- Frequent headaches, neck pain and back pain
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Unexplained rashes, itching, goosebumps
- Frequent colds or infections
- Heartburn, stomachache, nausea, change in appetite
- Constipation, diarrhea, bloating or gas
- Mood swings, anger, frustration, hostility
- Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, indecisiveness
- Insomnia, nightmares
- Fatigue, weakness
These are just some of the many physical symptoms of stress — our bodies react to stress differently, depending on many factors. But they are the common signs you’re of anyone struggling to manage stress.
While we’re taught to hang on and to keep pushing when facing difficulties, too much stress doesn’t work for us.
Some think that stress can always make you perform better, but is it the case?
It’s true that some amount of stress is normal and is beneficial to us. For example, most of us will feel at least a little nervous before an exam, during an interview, or having to speak publicly. This kind of stress gives us the energy and adrenalin boost we need to perform better.
However, when stress becomes too much for us to handle, problems arise. A research from UC Berkeley shows that stress changes the brain structure, increasing our risk of anxiety and depression.
Stress can be damaging to our mental health, and even causes a meltdown in some people.
Therefore, it’s better for us to understand the causes of stress and cope with it.
We feel the stress, but most of the time aren’t sure where it really comes from.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out why you’re feeling stressed:
- Are there any new challenges or difficulties I’m dealing with?
- Is it really a new challenge or is it something I’m too nervous to face?
- Do I lack the abilities needed to tackle these problems? Should I be worried, or am I just not confident enough?
- Am I expecting too much of myself? Are my expectations realistic?
- Is there someone who causes this or is it someone that I’m upset about?
- What would be the ideal solution to my problems? Can I make it happen, or should I ask for help?
- Is there one thing on my to-do list that stresses me out every single day? What can I do to deal with it?
- Is it something that I really don’t have control over?
- Do I feel happier after spending time with someone or after doing something? Have I been seeing less of them or doing less of it?
- Do I always feel stressed after talking to someone in particular or after doing something? Is that the reason why I’m upset at the moment?
These questions should help you identify where your stress comes from, and guide you to manage it effectively. You can also reflect on whether it’s related to work, school, family or any of your relationships.
The next step is to look for the solution that fits you most.
Let’s take a look at some quick fixes to relieve your stress first:
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes
They contain chemicals that stimulate your brain and can stress out your body. While you may be tempted to make yourself a strong cup of coffee ahead of work, or unwind with a few cocktails at the end of a stressful workday, remember there are other ways to help you relax (read on!).
For now, just drink water. It’s good for you.
Practice breathing techniques
Take your mind off your problems for 15 minutes each day just to practice some deep breathing. Try this calming breathe exercise:
It helps you calm down so you can think more clearly about your problems afterwards. It also helps you to fall asleep easier if you have sleep problems.
I understand it’d be difficult for you to fall asleep when you’re stressful. If the above two techniques can’t get you to sleep still, try to sleep with a weighted blanket, it’ll get you to sleep soon.
When you’re well rested, you can better tolerate stress and are less likely to feel it’s getting out of control.
Talk to a friend
Yes, talking out your problem seems to be an obvious way, but it really works. Sometimes, we need to learn to ask for help and support. Seeking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak; it actually means you’re brave enough to embrace your problems.
For example, if you’re having an argument with your partner, see what your friend would do in the same situation. An outsider’s perspective can always inspire you.
Exercise helps reduce stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, while at the same time increases the level of endorphins, known as the ‘happy hormones’. Keeping these chemicals in your body in balance is essential to managing stress.
If you’re not the “exercise” kind of person, I understand that it’s not easy to kickstart doing any exercises. So I’d suggest you to take a morning walk or an evening walk, which has a similar effect as intense exercise too. Or you can go hiking and explore the nature too, while it’s a kind of good exercise, you can also spend some time with your friends or family together.
For your long-term benefits, fit these things into your daily routine:
Keep a stress journal (or an emotion tracking app)
At the end of each day, take some time to reflect on what stressed you out during the day. Write down what you’ve done, what happened to you, and how you feel about those things. Write down things that stress you out or make you feel sad. Ask yourself: should i really be so worried about these things?
If you’re not the “journal” kind of person, try these apps:
- For iPhone users: Mood Track Journal – Your Personal Mood Log & Note
- For Android users: Moodtrack Diary: Mood Tracker
They’re easy and fun to use. You can record and look at your daily emotions and find out the triggers of stress, sadness and also happiness.
When you learn your triggers, you know what to avoid and what to do instead.
Be realistic with your to-do list
When you’re making plans for work, be realistic about your goals. Honestly assess your abilities, and don’t stress yourself out with too high expectations.
For example, instead of aiming to completing a very difficult task in 1 hour, carefully evaluate the effort you need for the task and set an achievable yet ambitious goal for this.
Also, try to prioritize your tasks and keep your to-do list challenging yet achievable. Don’t underestimate any tasks, or overestimate your abilities.
Always have a backup plan.
Accept that change happens and you don’t always have control of everything.
What’s important to realize is that you do have the power to control how you face change, and you can always be prepared for it.
“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” isn’t just a cliche saying. When you always prepare for a backup plan, you have done your part already, and you have to let go of the thought that anything will go wrong. Because things will always go wrong anyway.
When change happens, instead of feeling upset and stressed out, you can change your own perspective. You have to look at the new situation in ways different from the old ones—those were for the old situation only.
For example, instead of worrying about your upcoming speech will not be interesting enough for the audience, simply imagine that silent scenario in your mind and think about what you can do to gain back the audience’ attention. Maybe you can prepare a joke now so you can talk about it at that time? Maybe you can prepare some questions to interact with them?
Be prepared for the worst situation and then you’ll have nothing to worry about any more.
Understand that stress is in your control
Learn to live with stress and don’t let it take over your life.
Don’t stress about stress, literally—don’t obsess over your problems. Instead of worrying about “what’s going wrong”, focus on “what’s going right”.
Instead of thinking of stress as something negative, think of it as a helpful tool. This shift in mindset lets you regain control in difficult situations.
However, this is not to say that you should ignore stress. You should accept it.
Realizing stress can be a helpful friend makes you more confident and happier, which ultimately helps you stay strong in stressful times.
Keep in mind that different things work for different people. Don’t be discouraged if a certain way doesn’t get you what you want immediately. Keep trying and be patient.
Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io