We’ve all been under stress from school, work, and family life. Stress can feel like the plague, especially when it hits when you least expect it. While some people thrive under small, healthy doses of pressure, chronic stress can be damaging to your long-term health and wellness. Lighthouse wants to help you manage stress in a healthy way, instead of turning to alcohol or drugs to help relieve your stress. Continue reading for more information about how stress impacts you and what you can do about it.
The Body’s Stress Response
Your body has a fine-tuned system when it comes to stress. Different parts of your brain and body are included in the stress response. Below are the steps to the stress response:
1. The hypothalamus’s job is to maintain balance in the body. It is also what kicks off the stress response if there is an imbalance.
2. The pituitary gland produces many hormones that get the stress response going.
3. The adrenal glands help by producing steroids in response to the stress.
4. Adrenocorticotropic hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream.
5. Cortisol sets off changes in the body that help the body when it’s in fight-or-flight mode.
6. Several areas of the body and brain are activated, while others are suppressed, until the stress response is no longer needed.
The Impacts of Stress
While eustress—good stress—is necessary for motivation and completion of goals, distress—bad stress—isn’t healthy when it becomes chronic. Eustress, when able to be managed, can help increase your motivation, which then increases your productivity. Once you hit the tipping point from eustress to distress, however, that’s when stress becomes unhealthy.
For example, too much stress can increase your heart rate and breathing rate. With the increased heart rate, your blood pressure increases, which can gradually cause damage to your body’s cardiovascular system. With the increased breathing rate, you may send yourself spiraling into a panic attack. Furthermore, nerves, muscles, and hormones are all impacted by stress. Nerves in your brain can be impacted by stress, especially while the brain is still growing. Muscles that are constantly tense can lead to headaches. Chronically increased levels of the hormone cortisol can hurt your immune system. Furthermore, whole body systems are shut down because of the fight-or-flight mode you may be in, such as your digestive system and reproductive system. Because of the change in blood flow, your digestion is altered, meaning you have changes in your eating habits and the way your bowels function. For reproduction, long-term stress can impact libido and fertility.
The way you think about stress also matters. Research has shown that if people think their stress is harmful to them, it will most likely impact them negatively. Likewise, those that thought their stress was no big deal happened to have less of a negative impact from the stress they felt.
How Can You Deal With Distress?
Monitoring your stress levels is a necessary step in making sure you deal with distress healthily. To deal with distress, you’re going to have to put in some work. Stress will walk all over you if you let it. Put your foot down in your recovery. Don’t let stress drive you to use substances. Instead, try some of the following:
Exercise: Getting outside and getting your heart rate up is so helpful in dealing with distress. That fight-or-flight response that your body slips into during stress is preparing your body for activity. If you’re stranded with nervous energy and don’t know what to do, release that energy through movement. You will also get a mood boost from the endorphins released during your exercise.
Talk: Talking with others, either in a controlled setting like therapy or in a relaxed setting like with a friend, can work wonders. It’s important to get things that are bothering you off your chest. This can be done in therapy or with a friend. Talk about the problems you’re having. The other person doesn’t have to offer advice, just listening will do the trick.
Help others: Helping others is a great way to get your mind off of your own stress. Volunteering your time can be done, again, in a structured or unstructured setting. Whether it be helping out at a charity function or helping a friend, doing something to help someone else can be a great way to get your mind off of the distress you’re feeling.
Plan for the distress: Having a plan for when distress hits can be extremely helpful in navigating that stress. Knowing what you’re going to do and what your next move is going to be can help you put a stop to the stress.
Mindful journaling: These are two great things that can be combined to have a wonderful effect on reducing stress. Practicing mindfulness, being in the present moment, is a great way to detach from the stress you’re feeling. Journaling this stress away can also help you reduce your distress.
Take care of yourself: Last but not least, taking care of yourself is key. Don’t turn to alcohol or drugs to help cure your stress. It will have the opposite effect. Instead, turn toward one of the ways above to reduce distress. Be kind to yourself and do your best.
Lighthouse Recovery Texas is here to help you reduce your stress levels in your recovery from alcohol or drug use. Allow us to help give you the tools to tackle your addiction. We can’t wait to hear from you!