Managing stress effectively is an important part of maintaining overall wellness. Stress management skills do not come automatically; they must be learned and practiced. They are necessary to a successful recovery. Everybody experiences some stress in their lives. Some stress is positive and helps us stay healthy and feel active, but when stress becomes a constant condition, it can result in serious problems, physical and psychological illness, unhealthy lifestyles, including addiction.
Questions to consider:
- How do I know when I’m stressed?
- How does stress show on the outside?
- How does stress show on the inside?
- Do I acknowledge stress and take steps to manage it?
Identifying sources of stress:
Different situations cause stress for different people, depending on their personality, background and experience. A situation or event may be stressful for one person, but exciting for another. Stressors may be external, such as the death or loss of employment, or they may be internal, such as an illness, worry, or frustration. Some other examples of situations causing stress are:
- major events in your life: getting married, changing jobs, moving your home, getting divorced, or coping with the death of a loved one,
- long-term worries: concern about your children’s future, financial or economic problems, or an ongoing illness,
- daily hassles: traffic jams, rude people, broken equipment
How does our body respond to stress?
When we find an event stressful, our body undergoes a series of changes, called the stress response. There are three stages to this response. They are:
- Stage 1 – Mobilizing Energy, releasing adrenaline, faster heart-beat, increased breathing
- Stage 2 – Consuming Energy Stores: if it isn’t possible to escape from the first stage, the body begins to release stored sugars and fats from its resources, and a person feels more driven, pressured and tired.
- Stage 3 – Draining Energy Stores: if stress does not get resolved, the body’s need for energy becomes greater than its ability to produce it, and a person becomes chronically stressed; at this stage, some people may begin to experience problems such as insomnia, errors in judgment, personality changes, heart disease, ulcers or mental illness.
We react to stress in one of three ways:
- Task-oriented coping – You think the situation through and take action to deal with it.
- Emotion-oriented coping – You deal with your feelings and look for support from others.
- Distraction-oriented coping – You use activities or work to take your mind off the situation.
It is also important to understand the relationship between addiction and stress:
- Substances are often used to manage feelings during stressful times
- Substances are used as an escape stressful situations, or numb negative emotions
- Substance use may provide short-term relief from stress, but makes the situation worse in the long term.
- Unmanaged stress can make it harder to solve problems and make healthy decisions.
- Unresolved stress leads to relapse.
It is important to learn to manage stress effectively. The best ways to manage stress is to deliberately make time to relax. By gently and consistently re-directing our attention, we can learn to trigger the “relaxation response,” which reduces heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and other symptoms of excess stress.