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Managing Stress Part 2: Healthy Coping Mechanisms

klingensmiths drug-stores - healthy coping mechanisms for stress

Many of us are facing challenges when it comes to chronic stress and anxiety – so if you’re feeling overwhelmed lately, know that you’re not alone.

According to recent data points, the United States is experiencing stress levels as much as 20 percentage points higher than the global average. Up to 55% of Americans feel stressed during the day, largely due to economic pressures like inflation and healthcare costs, workplace stressors, and geopolitical tensions.

However, just because stress is often a big part of life doesn’t mean we should let it run unchecked. Doing so can exacerbate issues, resulting in serious mental health conditions, physical symptoms, and even heightened risks for life-threatening diseases.

Regardless of what’s triggering your stress – personal matters, financial concerns, natural disasters, or pandemics – it’s crucial that you develop safe and effective coping strategies.

But don’t let that add to your already mounting stress level. There are many proven coping mechanisms for stress, and many of them are readily available at your fingertips.

That’s why we’re publishing a three-part blog series sharing tips for managing stress. Today, in part two, let’s talk about coping strategies to protect your physical and mental health.

Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress

Move More, Sit Less

When you’re facing overwhelming stress triggers, the temptation to curl up on the couch and stay sedentary can be strong – but giving in doesn’t help.

Moving your body and engaging in regular exercise is crucial for effectively managing stress, as well as a wide range of mental health conditions. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters in the brain that act as natural mood elevators, helping to counteract the negative effects of stress hormones like cortisol.

Even a brief walk or a few minutes of yoga for stress management can provide immediate relief from growing feelings of tension and anxiety. Additionally, exercise promotes better sleep, allowing your body and mind to recharge and recover more effectively.

Regular exercise also has long-term (not just temporary) benefits for stress release and overall health. It strengthens the body’s resilience to stress by improving cardiovascular health, boosting immune function, and enhancing cognitive function. Exercise also provides a healthy outlet for pent-up energy and emotions, reducing the risk of stress-related conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders.

When you maintain a normal routine and stay active, you don’t just improve your ability to cope with stress in the present moment – you invest in your future physical and mental health.

Eat Healthy, Balanced Meals

Alongside healthy exercise, get plenty of nutrients in your stressed-out body. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is vital for both physical and mental wellness, especially when it comes to managing your symptoms.

Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains contain antioxidants and other nutrients that help protect the body from the harmful effects of stress and inflammation. Furthermore, the gut-brain connection plays a significant role in effective stress management, and a healthy diet is crucial for maintaining a balanced gut microbiome.

Research suggests that the gut microbiome influences neurotransmitter production, hormone regulation, and immune function, all of which can impact our response to stress. Consuming a diet rich in fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics supports gut health and may help reduce symptoms of stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression.

By nourishing our bodies with healthy, nutrient-dense foods, we not only provide the fuel needed to cope with stress, but we also support our overall health from the inside out.

Get Enough Sleep

Getting plenty of sleep is non-negotiable, especially when you’re stressed, as it plays a crucial role in regulating mood, cognitive function, and overall well-being.

When you’re stressed, your body produces higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol, which can disrupt your sleep patterns and make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.

Inadequate sleep can exacerbate stress, creating a vicious cycle that can negatively impact both your mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation impairs your ability to concentrate, make decisions, and cope with stressors, leaving you feeling irritable, overwhelmed, and more susceptible to mood swings and emotional disturbances.

Furthermore, sleep is essential for the body’s ability to recover and repair itself, especially during times of stress. While you sleep, your body undergoes various physiological processes that are crucial for physical and mental rejuvenation, including tissue repair, muscle growth, and memory consolidation.

Adequate sleep also supports immune function, helping to strengthen your body’s defenses against illness and infection, which can be compromised during periods of prolonged stress.

Difficulty sleeping or nightmares are normal reactions to stress or a traumatic event. If you’re struggling to get enough shut-eye, try to incorporate nighttime practices such as deep breathing and stretching before hitting the hay. Make sure your bedroom is a positive environment that’s dark, soothing, and conducive to a long night of rest.

Take a Step Back From Technology

Social media platforms often bombard us with a constant stream of information, much of which can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. The American Psychological Association even went as far as to say that media overload is hurting our mental health, often resulting in a specialized kind of stress and plenty of “doom scrolling.”

From news updates to curated portrayals of others’ seemingly perfect lives, the content we encounter on our smart devices can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy, comparison, and FOMO (fear of missing out). This constant exposure to stress-inducing stimuli can heighten our stress levels and contribute to a cycle of negative emotions.

When building stress-coping skills, take note of how technology exposure influences you.

For many, excessive phone, TV, and computer exposure can disrupt important self-care activities and exacerbate stressful feelings and symptoms. It can also lead to decreased physical activity, disrupted sleep patterns, and increased sedentary behavior, all of which can further contribute to feelings of fatigue, irritability, and decreased resilience to stress.

Moreover, the addictive nature of TV and computer screens can make it difficult to disengage and take time for relaxation and self-reflection, essential components of effective stress management.

By consciously limiting our exposure to social media and technology during times of high stress, we create space for more restorative activities, such as exercise, mindfulness, and spending quality time with loved ones, which can help alleviate stress and promote overall well-being.

Make Real Time to Unwind

Listening to news stories about mass shootings, natural disasters, political division, and a plethora of other unsettling topics can certainly lead to perpetually high stress levels.

Carving out REAL time to unwind is not just a luxury but a necessity for our mental and emotional health. Decompression periods allow us to disconnect from stressors and recharge our batteries, simultaneously preventing the worsening of chronic health concerns.

Perhaps your style of unwinding is watching, reading, or listening to content that brings you happiness. For others, stress-relieving hobbies include activities such as painting, practicing yoga, hiking, gardening, cooking, or even doing puzzles.

Whatever your unwinding activity might be, make sure you’re making real time for it on a regular basis.

Connect With Others

When stress weighs heavy on your shoulders, it’s easy to feel isolated and lonely. Reaching out and connecting with others can be a powerful antidote to these feelings, rivaling the benefits of the many other coping skills you could develop.

Social support plays a crucial role in stress management by providing a sense of belonging and validation. Whether it’s confiding in a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or social worker, sharing your experiences with others can help lighten the emotional burden of stress.

Positive relationships activate the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” which promotes feelings of trust, bonding, and relaxation, counteracting the negative effects of stress hormones like cortisol.

Moreover, connecting with others offers a fresh perspective and a source of encouragement and empathy. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts and worries.

Whether it’s sharing a meal, going for a walk, or simply spending time in the company of loved ones, nurturing relationships can provide a much-needed respite from the pressures of daily life and help you regain a sense of balance and perspective.

Risky Ways to Cope With Stress

Abusing Substances

If you’ve been stressed lately, it’s probably a good idea to avoid drugs and alcohol.

Using substances as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety may provide temporary relief, but doing so ultimately exacerbates the problem. Substance abuse can lead to dependence, addiction, and a host of physical and mental health issues, intensifying stress in the long run.

Rather than addressing the root causes of mental stress, it masks the underlying issues and can create a vicious cycle of dependency and worsening mental health, sometimes even leading to serious illness or a substance use disorder.

Indulging in Unhealthy Treats

Feelings like anger, sadness, worry, numbness, and anxiety can make anyone feel like indulging in their favorite fast-food chain or dessert. When we’re stressed, our bodies often crave unhealthy comfort foods high in sugar, fat, and processed ingredients.

However, indulging in these foods can actually exacerbate stress levels, leading to fluctuations in blood sugar levels and energy crashes that leave us feeling even more depleted and further lowering our immune systems.

Relying on unhealthy treats as a coping mechanism can create a cycle of emotional eating and undermine efforts to adopt healthier stress management strategies. A sweet treat here and there is okay, but try to prioritize full, clean, healthy meals as much as possible.

Over-Caffeinating

There are much better coping strategies than chugging coffee or energy drinks throughout the day, even if stress makes you feel lethargic or fatigued.

Over-caffeinating as a stress coping mechanism may provide temporary relief by increasing alertness and energy levels – but excessive caffeine consumption can make you feel anxious, disrupt sleep patterns, and lead to physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and gastrointestinal distress. This ultimately worsens stress in the long run.

Sleeping Too Much

While it may seem tempting to escape anxiety, grief, and worry by sleeping excessively, this can actually exacerbate feelings of fatigue and lethargy, leading to a vicious cycle of inactivity and low mood.

Oversleeping disrupts your natural sleep-wake cycle, potentially causing grogginess, headaches, and a sense of disorientation, hindering your ability to cope with stressors. It’s okay to sleep in a little and make sure you’re well rested, but overall, try to maintain normal routines during periods of high stress.

In Summary

Everyone handles stress differently, but it’s important that you know which strategies work best for you and promote long-lasting physical and mental health. Focus on incorporating positive habits into your daily routines – ones that lower your stress while arming your body with tools to handle anxiety and tension.

Chronic stress can make us feel isolated, so if you’ve been feeling alone or unsupported, it might be time to connect with a mental health professional. They’ll work with you to find personalized coping strategies based on your unique circumstances, preferences, and needs.

Coping with Stress? Klingensmith’s is Here to Help

Our Klingensmith’s Drug Store locations are here to support you as best we can. We offer a range of tools and resources designed to help you destress, from relaxation aids to self-help books and beyond.

Dealing with headaches, body pains, stomach problems, or other stress-related symptoms? We carry many products to help with these concerns, as well as luxury items such as microwavable heat pads to address muscle tension.

If you prefer to decompress outside, we also provide a range of high-quality bird and animal feeders. Maybe it’s time to pick up a new hobby and take a break from staring at screens inside – and we’d love to help you out!

For any questions, feel free to drop by one of our stores and speak with a team member. They’ll be happy to speak with you.

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Klingensmith's Drug Stores

Providing Pharmaceutical care in the Armstrong County area for over 80 years.