Dealing with chronic stress: Step 1, don’t ignore it

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A modern life is a busy life. Between family needs, work, the economy, political and social issues and more, most people are on the go all the time. Even if a small window of time is available for rest, we often find that we can’t “turn our minds off,” especially at night when we’re supposed to be sleeping. There are myriad issues that can cause chronic stress in a person’s life. Marriage problems, health problems, career challenges, financial challenges, anxiety and worry about current events, etc. If there’s an adult in a modern society who has figured out how to avoid all stress, he or she is definitely an anomaly.

While it’s not uncommon for stressful situations to come and go in life, chronic stress is a separate issue. It’s constantly present and typically impedes a person’s ability to experience peace, joy and good health. Trying to function on a daily basis with a chronic stress problem can lead to depression, insomnia, anxiety and other adverse conditions. Unresolved negative stress, worry, anger, etc., can spark serious health problems. Studies show that chronic stress can lead to cancer in the body. If you’re feeling weighed down, overwhelmed, anxious and stressed, there are several things to keep in mind.

Disregarding chronic stress is never a good idea

chronic stress, blood pressure device, blue pill container, pile of pills

Sure, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to push how you’re really feeling to the back of your mind in order to accomplish what you need to do. For instance, you might be feeling upset or worried or stressed about a problem at home. You have to make a business presentation at work that same day. So, rather than dwelling on stressful thoughts, you try to focus on the task at hand and forge ahead, instead. Mind-over-matter is a coping mechanism. However, it’s entirely different from chronically ignoring your chronic stress.

When stress is prolonged and remains unresolved, it can have lasting, negative effects on your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. It might seem like ignoring it will help it go away, but it usually doesn’t. In fact, it can make it worse. Taking time to acknowledge you feel and explore possible remedies and solutions is self-indulgent, yes but not selfishly-indulgent. There’s a difference! Ignoring chronic stress places you at risk for serious health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and more. This information alone should be enough to prove why it’s important NOT to disregard ongoing stress.

Identify chronic stress triggers and remedies

chronic stress, woman in white uniform giving person lying on cot a massage

Try to recall the most recent thing that caused you stress. Now call to mind what made you feel better, even temporarily. A first step to take to deal with chronic stress in a healthy manner is to make a list of anything and everything you can think of that’s causing it. Then, make a second list with possible stress-relief remedies that seem to work best for you. No two people handle stress in exactly the same way. You might have a friend who says that he or she always feels stress relief by going for a run. If you’re a person who doesn’t like to run, can’t run or simply don’t consider it a form of stress-relief, then it’s unlikely to work as a remedy for you. And, that’s okay.

The key is to explore and discover what DOES work for you. It’s also possible that you’ll find certain remedies helpful in dealing with certain types of stress but not others. Helpful remedies often include things like rest and sleep, exercise, massage, nutrition and lifestyle changes, prayer and meditation, aromatherapy and more. It can also be helpful to talk about your feelings with someone you trust.

A strong support network is a valuable asset

digital art of people holding hands in a circle, word "network" in middle of circle

What is it about Americans that makes us hesitant when it comes to asking for help or even admitting that we need it? When we accept support and help from others, it activates certain stress relief mechanisms in our brain. Have you ever had to go somewhere or do something that you knew, ahead of time, was going to be stressful? Perhaps a close friend offered to go with you “for added support.” Simply having someone accompany us on a difficult journey is often enough support to help us manage the chronic stress associated with the situation.

Let’s say you’re a mom who has several children and are running a business through your cell phone from home. You know that most of your days include a high level of stress. The kids have to get to school, practice and social events. Everyone needs to eat, and you’re undoubtedly the person who is the primary meal-provider in the household. You and your spouse have been struggling with a particular issue in your marriage. Or, maybe there’s no specific problem — you just haven’t had any time to enjoy each other’s company, alone. Add to that a broken appliance, a problem with your taxes, a crashed server on the internet or any other myriad issues that are stressful.

Rather than trying to push through it all as though you’re Super Woman, it’s better to have a strong support network in place that you can tap into in a time of need. Can someone drive the kids to practice for you so that you can call your internet service provider and have an uninterrupted conversation? If there’s no time available for a date night, can you and your spouse hire someone to help the kids get to school so the two of you can have a date morning, instead? Do you have a friend who will spontaneously meet you for coffee when you feel overwhelmed and need a shoulder to lean on? We’re not meant to go through life unaccompanied. Building a strong support network is a key to chronic stress relief.

It’s how we respond to life that’s most important

words "think positive" on chalkboard sign in grassy field

We can’t control every aspect of our lives. In fact, life sometimes throws a high-speed curve ball our way that we never saw coming and aren’t prepared to meet. It’s understandable that chronic stress can make you feel like life is spinning out of control, and it might be. You might be facing certain issues that you can’t control. Something you can control, however, is your response. Yes, life happens but how we each choose to respond to it has a significant impact on our health. You can’t control everything that happens, especially another person’s actions, but you CAN control how you choose to respond to it.

It takes courage to be kind to yourself

chronic stress, silhouette of man, red heart, word "me"

Healing from chronic stress requires self-nurture and kindness. Sometimes, we know in our minds exactly what we need to do to resolve a specific problem but lack the courage to do it. Do you have a toxic friendship that continually causes stress in your life? It takes courage to end a friendship, but true friendship doesn’t cause ill-health. Would you feel better if you could just find an hour in your week to sit and relax? Being kind to yourself might include mustering up the courage to resign from the volunteer committee that requires your presence once a week. If stepping down adds the hour you need each week to have some down time to rest your body and mind, why would you not do that for yourself?

Review your entire weekly schedule. What can you eliminate or change in order to help you reduce chronic stress in your life? If you were caring for a child or spouse, you’d do whatever it takes to help them get well, right? Why won’t you do that for yourself? It doesn’t mean the changes have to be permanent. Although, if they are, that’s okay, too. It simply means that you have the courage to be kind to yourself and cut back on your outside commitments as needed in order to have less stress in your life. Think of the possible consequences of not making changes.

Life will get more stressful as you continue to add things to your schedule. Your mental, emotional and (possibly) physical health will suffer. What good is that? It’s not always easy to say “No,” to requests or to decline invitations or make schedule changes. This is especially true if you know that your decision will cause inconvenience to others. Having the courage to do what you need to do to reduce chronic stress in your life is essential to a journey of healing.



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