Are You Oppressed by Stress?

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We all experience stress sometimes. Certain circumstances like Covid-19 that upend or rearrange our lives can bring out the best in us but may also bring out the stress in us, but do you know how to distinguish between normal stress and unhealthy, chronic stress?

Sign stating, "Not Today Covid 19."

Sign stating, “Not Today Covid 19.”

Several mental health surveys show that Covid-19 increased stress in all age groups with certain groups, like parents, experiencing much greater stress concerning finances, education and basic needs as a result of Covid-19.

A certain amount of stress is natural. No living person or even animal gets through life without experiencing some form of stress. Indeed, if a squirrel was able to sit down and discuss stress with us over tea and sunflower seeds, the little animal would probably say stress can even be a life-saver.

However, there is a big difference between the natural stress we all experience at times to the chronic or unmanageable version of stress that can wreak havoc on the immune system, memory, heart, hormones and digestive system.

A woman sits in front of a computer and appears very stressed.

A woman sits in front of a computer and appears very stressed.

Blessed or Distressed by Stress?

Although most of us would agree that stress is quite unpleasant, a little burst of stress can be a blessing in disguise. Like the squirrel saved from the clutches of a bird of prey by stress, stress exists to keep us safe.

Think about what happens when you experience stress. Heart rate and breathing increase and muscles tense in preparation for fight or flight response to danger. Did you know that stress makes your short-term memory sharper and improves thinking and reasoning?

In this way, stress can be very useful. Although you may not enjoy the feeling, stress can assist you in answering questions during job interviews, exams and improve artistic or athletic performances.

Stress can go from a blessing to a curse when it becomes prolonged. For those experiencing ongoing worry about finances, the health of themselves or loved ones or any other persistent worry associated with Covid-19 or any other long-term concern not associated with the pandemic, the body goes into that alert state without returning to the normal state.

Instead of the enhanced abilities that short-term stress can ignite, prolonged stress negatively affects everything including the heart, immune system, digestive system and our mental health. Stress is serious enough to contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Ask yourself how often you are experiencing feelings of stress. Are the stressed feelings a result of something happening or are they just lingering? Are the feelings becoming a part of your everyday life and extending beyond a situation? If so, it is time to figure out ways to manage and ideally eliminate some of the stress you are experiencing for the sake of your health.

Stress directly impacts the way we process and react to emotions. Stress can lead to the development of anxiety, depression and other mental illness. In fact, the symptoms are all so similar, it may be difficult to decipher where stress ends and anxiety or depression begins.

Stress causes the release of chemicals and hormones. Recent studies show that prolonged stress can alter the structure of the brain. The excessive activation of the immune system brought on by chronic stress also affects brain function. Researchers believe these aspects of stress are what can lead to depression and other mental illnesses.

Ways to Repress the Stress

Since stress is unavoidable, it is best to identify the root of the stress reaction. This way, you can be aware of it and try to either work with it or in some cases eliminate it, if possible.

Be kind to yourself in times of stress and don’t overwhelm yourself by taking on more than you can handle. Ask for help from others when you need it and share your feelings when you do so. It might even help others feel they can share with you. Many of us are feeling increased stress at the moment. It feels good to talk about it, so we don’t feel so isolated or alone. Misery may love company but so does stress, haha.

Even if you feel busy and overwhelmed, taking a break to meditate, visualize or daydream is like charging your battery. The same way you stop and charge your phone, don’t neglect to charge your batteries with some quiet reflection or even an activity that brings you joy.

Although the weather may not always cooperate, it helps to get outdoors. Our therapists often tout the healing power of exercise. Healthy eating and taking care of yourself will also extend to helping with stress.

The Conquest of Stress

Lastly, research has also found that the way we view stress can have a huge effect on how we handle it. Psychologists at Stanford studied people undergoing the stressful Navy SEALS training and found that the individuals who regarded stress as positive and enhancing lasted longer in the grueling program than others who had a negative view of stress.

The changes we suggest can take time, especially with stress that has lingered and rooted itself. You may not be able to do it yourself, which is understandable. It isn’t always easy to identify all of the causes of stress or tension when we are so close to the issues.

Talking to a mental health counselor can help you identify all of the things that may be contributing to the stress you are experiencing and whether these are short-term or chronic stressors. A counselor can also help you figure out ways to make changes and take back control of your life.

We have noticed an increase in stress of everyone lately, so you are not alone. If you do want to talk, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our mental health counselors here at the Jacksonville Center for Counseling.