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How Stress Affects the Way You Think & How to Cope

Stress. Everyone’s got it, needs it and deals with it in some way. Surprising as it may sound, stress in its very basic and primal form is actually good and necessary for the body. It is the body’s natural way of protecting a person from danger and helps us get things accomplished. Stress keeps us moving and alert. It can also help us focus on a daily basis to get through our “to do” list. 

What is Fight or Flight?

We all possess the “Fight or Flight Response,” the body’s natural reaction to a perceived danger. This response releases a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, in order to rouse the body to take emergency action. The result of this hormonal surge produces the following physical effects:

  • The heart beats faster
  • Muscles tighten
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Breath quickens
  • Your senses become sharper

These physical changes prepare you either to face or flee from the threat by providing your body with strength, stamina, increased focus and a quicker reaction time.

When Stress Becomes Toxic

We have stressors in every aspect of our lives. Friends, family, work, home, social settings, grocery stores and even getting the mail can be a source of stress. Even positive events such as graduations, new jobs, moving and new relationships can raise stress levels.

When stress goes unchecked, problems can arise, taking a toll on the body, emotions and mind. Too much stress moves us from being motivated and focused to inefficient and confused. Exposure to long-term stress can cause memory problems and poor judgement in addition to physical health problems, which include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar

Feeling overwhelmed makes you unable to concentrate. With all of these effects, the individual begins to only see the negative side of situations which can then lead to anxious or racing thoughts and constant worrying.

Coping with Stress

We actually choose how stressed we become!  Sounds odd, doesn’t it? A stressful situation for one individual is exciting for another. Our reaction to stress is as unique as each individual. Once we recognize what causes our unhealthy levels of stress, we can work to manage it. Stress is not the problem; it is how we choose to respond that becomes the issue.

Setting up healthy coping skills can help us manage when things begin to feel overwhelming. Here are a few basic tips for handling stress in a way that is positive and healthy:

  • Make a list: Writing down tasks at hand and prioritizing them in order of importance can help you feel more in control of your situation. It also serves as a reminder of what’s really important throughout your day. Similarly, you can sit down with a calendar to map out busy activities. Being prepared is an important part of reducing stress.
  • Recognize that some things are out of your control: When faced with a stressful situation or problem, stop and first ask yourself, “Is this mine to fix?” and “Can I do anything to help or do I need to move on?” Recognizing when you are simply not responsible for certain issues will allow you the peace of mind needed to forge ahead.
  • Start with one situation at a time: Whether cleaning the house, running errands or working on projects, try tackling each task individually rather than looking at the overall situation. This can breed a greater sense of accomplishment, as well as reduce that stressful feeling of ‘being overwhelmed.’
  • Take a step back: When you find yourself feeling stressed out, take a step back from the situation and listen to music, sit on the floor, go outside for some fresh air, exercise, color, clean – whatever may calm you.
  • Celebrate the little things: Think positively and recognize when you’ve accomplished a goal or done something well.

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