By Dr. Sadie Phillips, reflect's head of therapy
At some point in the last month, you’ve probably felt stressed. You might even be stressed right now. Stress can be triggered by anything from demands we face in our jobs to challenges dating to lack of sleep as a result of a newborn baby.
Many of us who are successful in our careers and personal lives learned early on that being “successful” requires us to push through any stress to challenge ourselves, accomplish more, and win.
We're so used to stress that we've normalized it. This pattern of thinking is bad. Like really bad.
Stress is like that friend from college who is way too much fun. He or she is the life of the party and push us to do things we never imagined we’d do. But if they stay around too long, dishes get broken, your apartment becomes a mess, and eventually, your life is turned upside down.
Continuing to ignore stress ultimately catches up with us. And when it does, it’s not pretty.
It’s time to have an honest conversation about the real impact of stress and how to make lasting changes to effectively manage the stress we face in our busy lives. And this is one topic you can't afford to put off any longer.
WHAT IS STRESS?
While we think of stress as a feeling, it has deep physiological roots grounded in evolution. And it can be a very good thing.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It occurs naturally when we go through change, stretch beyond our comfort zones, or try something new. Our body releases a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine to give it energy and strength. Evolutionarily, this response has been essential for staying alive, fighting off enemies, and protecting loved ones -- ‘fight or flight.’
True threats to our physical safety are rare today. Instead, stress is often brought on emotionally by things such as a demanding job or changes in our personal lives. Like with biological triggers, the good stress we feel can give us the extra energy boost that drives us to stay late at work or plan everything for our upcoming wedding.
Unfortunately, as the world has gotten busier and more complex, the amount of things that can cause stress in our lives has exponentially increased. We become stuck in ‘fight or flight.’
MORE STRESSED THAN YOU THINK
Here’s the thing: even in a world full of yoga and mindfulness, we tend to minimize the high amounts of stress we experience every day. “Normal” life occurrences such as getting married or having a baby can be hugely stressful events that warrant specific focus. Instead, we just try to push through.
Many of us have lost the ability to read the warning signs our bodies send. We’ve become so desensitized, we think of stress as something to be conquered. But over time, ignoring this stress can take its toll.
STRESS TAKES ITS TOLL
In a recent study, 72% of people who have daily stress and anxiety said it interferes with their lives at least moderately. This includes everything from physical to mental side effects.
In fact, as much as 50% of symptoms that present in primary care settings are related to mental health and not physical illness.
Given our ever-stressed, fast-paced lifestyle, our bodies pump out cortisol -- one of the key chemicals that drives ‘fight or flight’ -- almost constantly. An overload of cortisol can wreak havoc on our health, causing everything from weight gain, to a greater risk for the development coronary artery disease and other medical conditions, to ultimately a shorter life expectancy.
Stress can also impair decision-making and strain our relationships with others -- even when our issues doesn’t involve them at all. Seven in 10 of adults report that workplace stress affects their personal relationships, mainly with their spouses. Being stuck in ‘fight or flight’ causes us to become irritable and angry. It can make us closed up emotionally, as we prepare for the worst. That behavior has a reinforcing effect, making us feel more stressed and alone.
IMPACT TO OUR MENTAL HEALTH
Ignoring the fact we’re stressed doesn’t mean stress goes away. Instead, it compounds over time. Symptoms may go away temporarily, but they often return with a vengeance. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame and Queen’s University in Canada found that there’s a 40-60% chance those who experience certain conditions such as depression will have another episode if untreated.
WHAT TO DO?
That’s quite a laundry list of bad things that can result from stress. But here’s some good news: stress can be effectively managed.
The first step is understanding how stressed we really are. This means unwiring some of the conditioning we’re accustomed to -- because remember, we’re often way more stressed than we think. By doing so, we start to learn more about our own stress, the triggers of stress in our lives, and better ways to address those stressors.
Dr. Sadie Phillips, reflect’s head of therapy, has compiled some useful tips for managing stress by severity. Click below to take our stress test and learn how stressed you really are and how to take immediate action to better manage the stress you may be experiencing.
Helpful tips for managing stress, incorporating mindfulness, and promoting a healthy lifestyle