Stress can be a useful emotion – it can motivate us to achieve or alert us to potential harm. But it can also become a chronic state of mind that can lead to disturbance within the body.
One manifestation of stress can be tension headaches and migraines, caused by the release of stress-related chemicals and hormones that lead to changes in the reactivity of the blood vessels within the brain.
Because feelings of stress often result from your emotional reaction to challenging circumstances, it is often controllable. This means that you have the power to reduce the amount of stress you experience and the impact it has on your body, by carefully managing the way you respond to potentially stressful situations, such as bereavement, illness, money or relationship problems.
Everyone responds to external stressors differently, experiencing a range of mental, physical and emotional effects including anger, worry, mood swings, weight loss or gain, sweating and social withdrawal.
The first step in learning how to cope better with stress is recognizing the cause and the signs of stress – for example, do you get angry and start sweating at the thought of the morning traffic jam, or tend to avoid seeing your friends when you are under financial pressure?
Once you have identified the cause of your stress, you can take steps to avoid your triggers and/or modify your response to them. This involves maintaining composure, taking responsibility for the situation, and then taking steps to reduce the impact it has on you.
You can start by lowering your expectations of the situation, or reminding yourself that certain events – such as traffic jams – are out of your control. Then you can focus on controlling those events that are in your control, such as leaving the house earlier to account for the slow traffic or pulling over to phone ahead and inform someone at the other end that you are stuck in traffic.
It is also important to adopt lifestyle changes that help to reduce stress, such as taking regular exercise, eating regular, balanced meals, stopping smoking, and practicing methods of stress relief such as expressing anger effectively and using relaxation techniques.
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