The COVID-19 public health crisis has caused significant disruptions to home and family life, and for many people, these changes have led to increased feelings of stress. Without proper management, stress can have a variety of short-term and long-term negative impacts on a person's life.
In the article below, we detail the causes of stress and the need for stress management. Further, we discuss the benefits of proper stress management and actionable methods to achieve those benefits.
What causes stress, and when is stress management useful?
Stress occurs when the body responds to present or anticipated threats or disruptions to the person's wellbeing. These possible threats and disruptions are collectively known as "stressors." Common stressors include loud noises, sudden movements, and violence. Common stressors also include ongoing experiences with child-care demands, difficult relationships, heavy workloads, and financial troubles.
When a person experiences a stressor, their body initiates a series of physiological changes known as the "fight-or-flight" response. During this response, the body releases hormones that cause an increase in heart rate and heightened alertness. These changes allow the person to react quickly and to address the stressor sufficiently.
People refer to emotions and feelings associated with the body's fight-or-flight response as "stress." In many cases, stress is useful, as it allows the person to respond appropriately to threats in their environment. However, stress can also be unproductive and even harmful if left unchecked.
In some cases, a person may experience chronic stress. The person may be in a challenging environment that continually produces and warrants stress or may have a regularly outsized reaction to difficulties in life. In chronic stress cases, affected individuals should engage in stress management practices, which include a range of activities, methods, and interventions to regulate one’s response to stressors.
Proper stress management allows a person to recognize the presence of a stressor and be aware of their reaction to the stressor. If the person's stress response is unhelpful, they can use stress management techniques to change their response to the stressor. While the goal of stress management is not to do away with stress entirely, the goal is to regulate the body's response to stress so that stress does not become overwhelming and harmful.
What are the benefits of managing stress?
One key benefit of stress management is avoiding the physical health problems of chronic stress. When a person is chronically stressed, their sleep deteriorates, and their inflammation levels rise. Chronic stress can also lead to poor nutrition habits and overeating, also known as "stress eating." Additionally, stress-induced hormonal imbalances can result in a less effective immune system and high blood pressure.
Those combined symptoms of stress can lead to chronic joint pain, indigestion, heart disease, strokes, and even cancer. When a person properly manages their stress, they can limit their risk of developing those conditions.
A second important benefit of stress management is improving mental health. Individuals who suffer from chronic stress may experience prolonged periods of anxiety and depression. Additionally, affected individuals may struggle with impatience, irritability, and keeping focus. Also, when a person tries to deal with their stress by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, some individuals develop cases of psychological addiction or chemical dependence.
When a person relieves stress effectively, they can reduce the risk of stress negatively impacting their mental health. Stress management techniques can help an individual can gain perspective on stressors in their life, and these techniques can help a person interrupt unhelpful thought patterns associated with those stressors.
A third significant benefit of stress management is helping a person maintain interpersonal relationships. When a person suffers from chronic stress, they may isolate themselves from others as a response to being overwhelmed. Additionally, when chronic stress causes a person to be irritable and lash out regularly, they may inadvertently harm their relationships with others. Proper stress management can help a person improve their interactions with their friends and family so that they can maintain and develop interpersonal relationships despite their struggle with stress.
Lastly, a fourth significant benefit of stress management is increased productivity. When a person suffers from chronic stress, feelings of anxiety and even despair can be ever-present. These feelings are often overwhelming, and the affected person is often unable to focus on tasks and may experience decreased cognitive performance overall. With effective stress management and stress relief, the person can limit overwhelming anxiety and feelings of despair. The person can instead focus their mental energies on productive tasks at home and at work.
Relatedly, stress management can have benefits in the workplace that extend beyond a person's increased productivity. When a company's employees are less stressed, a company has less employee turnover and less re-hiring costs. Additionally, employees with low stress-levels are often more motivated and more creative than stressed employees.
How to achieve the benefits of stress management
One of the best ways to manage the physical and emotional tolls of stress is to talk with friends and family about the stress that one experiences. Often, friends and family can help the individual deal with the stressor, such as assisting with child care. Also, by sharing one's feelings with others, people can recognize that they are not alone in their struggle with stress.
Another standard method to reduce stress is practicing self-care, which can include getting enough sleep, exercising daily, and meditating. These stress reduction practices do not require much time and effort, and they can trigger the body to release endorphins, which are hormones that can help a person feel good and have a positive outlook. In addition to helping the person feel better overall, these practices can allow the person to gain perspective on stressors that may make the person feel overwhelmed unnecessarily.
How Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital may be helpful
In some cases, an individual who suffers from chronic stress needs the help of trained clinical professionals. At Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, our team can help individuals who suffer from stress with our inpatient psychiatric programs, partial hospitalization program, and our intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). For a no cost assessment, call us24/7 (832) 834-7720 to speak with one of our staff members.