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Posted July 26, 2021 by Patrick A. Palmieri, Ph.D.
Stress is inevitable and a natural part of our modern lives. Bills come every month, kids’ activities are year-round and work never seems to slow down.
Suffice it to say, stress is something all of us struggle with at times. However, it’s one that all of us cope with differently — some in healthy ways and others in unhealthy ways. Some people may turn to meditation or a friend to release stressful energy, while others may turn to more harmful activities or vices.
Choosing unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress has a major impact on your mental and physical well-being, and can add additional stress in the long run. On the other hand, learning to face and deal with your stress using healthy coping mechanisms, no matter how tough and unpleasant that seems, is the key to liberating you from it.
Heavy alcohol or drug use: Binge drinking, chain-smoking or using drugs as a way to escape temporarily from your stress is dangerous. These unhealthy ways to cope can lead to addiction, severe health problems or even death. Plus, these vices don’t help you deal with the stress at hand and can cause it to get worse.
Junk food abuse: Though high-stress levels can lead to junk food cravings, fight the urge. Eating excessive amounts of fat and sugary foods can actually increase stress levels and negatively impact your health. Plus, using food to cope with stress could lead to an eating disorder.
Unhealthy sleeping patterns: Much like drugs and alcohol, oversleeping is a way to escape stress in your life. The problem is the stress is still there when you wake up and will continue to get worse until you deal with it. On the other hand, if you’re avoiding sleep to fit more to-dos into your daily routine, that can lead to health issues also.
Retail therapy:Self-care is necessary, but there’s a difference between occasionally treating yourself and frequent shopping sprees to cope with your stress. Continuing this unhealthy habit will negatively impact your finances and, in turn, add more stress to your life.
Self-harming behaviors: In extremely stressful situations, some may turn to starving or to cutting or other immediate ways of harming themselves to feel more in control of their situation. This can cause serious mental and physical health problems.
If any of these mechanisms sound familiar, take note and try making the switch to healthier ways of dealing with high stress. Seek help from a health care professional if you are unable to manage your stress on your own.
Get support. Confide in family and friends, or turn to someone professional. Expressing how you feel can be cathartic. Also, it’s important to express your feelings instead of bottling them up, because that can add to your stress.
Add relaxation techniques to your everyday routine. Relaxation promotes overall health and gives you a chance to step away, clear your head and connect with yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big-time commitment, either. It can be accomplished with deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga or other ways.
Think positive thoughts. Negative thoughts can lead to negative behavior, while a positive attitude can help offset difficult situations. Make an effort to think positively by looking for the upside in every situation. In addition, thinking about all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities, can change your perspective.
Stay healthy and fit. A well-balanced diet and staying active ensures your body is better prepared to fight stress. Exercise relaxes your body and mind while improving your mood. In fact, physical exercise has been proven to play a key role in preventing and reducing the effects of stress.
Get a good night’s rest. Getting enough rest is important because it gives your body time to recover from stressful events and sets you up to fight new challenges the next day.
Coping with stress is never easy, but when you make the switch to healthy coping mechanisms from unhealthy ones, it will put you on the path to relieving your stress, instead of adding to it.