Get Control Before Stress Takes its Toll

stressBefore recovery, you may have wanted to drink or use drugs when you felt stressed out. For many, substance abuse is a common response to chronic stress however it is not a helpful remedy—it actually aggravates stress. With April being National Stress Awareness Month, let’s take a closer look at how stress can affect your body, mood and behavior and healthy ways to relieve stress.

Most people need a certain amount of stress. In the right amount, it can give you an edge. Keep you sharp and alert. On the other hand, living in a constant state of stress isn’t a good idea. Constant stress produces high levels of cortisol, a hormone released from the adrenal gland in times of stress, which has been shown to impair cognitive functioning and weaken the immune system.

Without a doubt, stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings as well as your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them.

stress symptoms

The ideal, then, is to have just enough stress to remain focused; but to also have an outlet that can regulate stress and keep it from overtaking your life. Following are five healthy ways to help you defuse stress.

Take short meditation and mindfulness breaks

One of the best ways to deflect stress is through meditation. While there are many different meditation techniques, here is a simple one that only takes two minutes: Meditate by concentrating only on a single word during the most stressful time of the day—the morning, which, not coincidentally, happens to be the same time of day that has the highest incidence of heart attacks.

Doctors agree that meditation practices such as this are a great way to combat daily stress, but also say learning any type of technique that relaxes the body and mind will reduce worry—which in the end, is the goal: learning to cope with stress by learning to manage the mind.

For instance, mindfulness exercises also are effective in soothing stress. Try this: Sit upright, focus on your breath and pay attention to a physical sensation, such as filling your lungs with air. When your mind wanders, notice the disruption and then return your attention to that simple sensation. Continue the exercise for 5 to 10 minutes and repeat a few times a day to help manage stress.

Don’t skimp on sleep

To boost DHEA (a hormone that improves cognitive functioning and alleviates depression) naturally, get more sleep. Getting adequate sleep doesn’t just make you look better, it also improves your health and helps you stress less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Before setting your alarm, take note of your stress status. The more demanding your days, the more sleep you need to handle them. If the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep isn’t possible, at least plan for an early night or two during a rough week or, if nothing else, a weekend nap.

Get moving

One reason exercise is so good at relieving stress is because it reduces cortisol levels. Exercise burns cortisol, and thereby makes us healthier and happier. Exercise also stimulates the brain’s pituitary gland to release endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that have naturally feel-good effects.

If you’re not type of person who likes to run or go the gym, try yoga. It not only keeps your body in shape and improves flexibility, but it also helps you cope with stress and lower inflammation.

Hug it out

Oxytocin, which is also known as the “cuddle hormone,” is involved in social bonding, but can also help to lower stress levels. This “love hormone” can be released during simple physical contact, such as a friendly hug. Produced in the brain’s hypothalamus, oxytocin is then transferred to the pituitary gland, which releases the hormone into the bloodstream.

Spending quality time with Rufus

Pet owners can reduce stress by building extra playtime with their dog into the day. In fact, playing with your dog can boost oxytocin levels, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior. If you don’t own a pet, offer to take a neighbor’s dog for an after-dinner walk or dog-sit for a friend—even short outings can provide enough pet exposure time to lessen anxiety.

Laugh out loud, as much as possible

The old adage that laughter is the best medicine rings true if you’re looking for a stress antidote. A 2001 study found that when a funny video was viewed, individuals experienced a decrease in the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. They also had an increase in feel-good endorphins and in human growth hormone, which boosts the immune system.

In short, stress that’s left unchecked not only affects how you feel and act, it can lead to more serious health problems. As you do things to proactively manage stress, you are likely to become more mindful about the role stress is playing in your life. You may even begin to see a pattern of what stresses you out. With this awareness, you can decide what changes you can make to prevent those stress triggers from affecting you in the future. Ultimately, people who learn how to beat chronic stress often develop positive shifts in their outlook, and in the process, become stronger and more self-aware.

About Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers
Every year Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment helps thousands of adults and teens get their life back on track and gives renewed hope to those who care about them. With 50 years of treatment experience, our specialists take the time to understand of the specific needs of each individual. We then develop a customized treatment plan with recommendations for the most appropriate care based on an individual's substance abuse and mental health history. As the largest provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment in Illinois, Gateway has 11 treatment centers throughout the state. Gateway outpatient and residential substance abuse treatment programs are not one-size fits all, but unique treatment plans that give an individual the highest chance for a successful outcome. With insurance acceptance and a track record of success, Gateway Treatment Centers help thousands of individual’s successfully complete treatment each year, and find the hope they need to live again.

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