When is the last time you checked into your mental health? Many of us understand the importance of managing stress – but the reality of doing regular stress management activities alludes many people. Have you thought about what level of stress may start to affect your work, learning and/or relationships?
You hear all the time that there are different ways to manage stress, but have you used them? Are you listening to what your body is telling you? Studies show that how you manage stress and your overall mental health plays a significant role in your ability to think and function properly.
“It’s really important that we all key into how our bodies are responding to the world around us,” said Julie Stephen, licensed professional counselor for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. “We need to understand how we find ourselves coping with stress and make sure we’re having healthy reactions versus worsening an already difficult situation.”
Recommended signs of stress you should watch out for include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Headaches and/or back pain
- Worry and/or constant thoughts about stressors
- Anger and/or irritability
- Loss of motivation
- Changes in appetite
- Increased consumption of alcohol and/or drugs
“These are the signs our body gives us to say, ‘time-out, I’m on stress overload,’” said Stephen.
There are several actions we can take to ensure we’re taking care of ourselves. The first, most basic and probably most difficult thing everyone can do to manage stress is to take care of their overall health.
Experts recommend using these five methods for managing stress:
- Learn how to decompress, regularly. Have you figured out what relaxes you? Maybe it’s a quiet walk, listening to music or learning how to meditate. It’s important you understand what helps you relieve stress and that you deploy this “antidote” regularly. Make it part of your daily routine. Managing your overall mental health takes a daily commitment.
- Break a sweat. Stress induces a hormone in your body called cortisol. Cortisol harm your overall health if it remains in high concentration chronically. A great tool to rid yourself of overproduced cortisol is to utilize it in an activity. Try incorporating walking, yoga or any of your favorite exercises into your daily regimen to reduce this hormone in your system.
- Take a hard look at your menu. The food you consume plays a big role in your ability to handle cortisol in your body. According to WebMD, a healthy diet can balance the impact of stress by strengthening the immune system, stabilizing moods and reducing blood pressure. WebMD recommends increasing your intake of Vitamin C, complex carbohydrates, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids like fish, nuts and seeds.
- Unplug. A recent article in Fast Company describes the impact of “technostress” on workers, citing constant connectivity as a major stressor for individuals. It’s important to set boundaries for your work, when you’re plugging in and how often you’re connected to technology.
- Know when to call in reinforcements. If you’re finding that your responses to stress and anxiety are getting worse, don’t be afraid to seek help. Consider consulting your primary care doctor or make an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional.You may also want to check with your university or employer, who may offer free and online resources to help you manage these difficulties. Otherwise, there are many resources available online where you can seek assistance including:
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at samhsa.gov.
- This list of free services from the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, which includes community health centers and community mental health programs.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers free resources and tools to take advantage of on their website at cdc.gov/mentalhealth.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, put in the time and effort to implement these methods into your routine to better manage stress. Be sure to seek out support from those around you whenever you need it and check in with loved ones often.