You may not want to hear this, but stress can actually be a good thing. It’s the body’s response to danger, so it keeps your energy up, it keeps you focused, it quickens your reactions, and it gives you a burst of strength. The key word there, however, is "burst." Sustained stress, when your body is constantly in emergency mode, is tiring and draining; it can damage your health, put you in a bad mood, and harm your relationships, as well as leading to fatigue and psychological symptoms.
Even small stresses can affect your mood. A stressor causes an immune response, flooding the brain with immune cells called monocytes, which can cause anxiety. In addition, the hormone cortisol, known as the stress hormone because of its central role in stress response, actually overpowers and counteracts standard anxiety reduction techniques.
With that in mind, here are some ways you can reduce your stress levels:
- Build a strong support network. People who are socially isolated are more vulnerable to stress than people who surround themselves with supportive friends and family. Just be prepared to reciprocate when they need you.
- Cultivate optimism. Remember that life has its ups and downs, and things will get better
- Get some exercise. A good workout is a distraction, and releases endorphins, which make you feel better both mentally and physically.
- Cut the caffeine. The extra alertness also makes you extra jumpy. Alcohol and drugs can also raise your stress levels, and hamper your ability to respond appropriately and proportionately to stressful situations.
- Set aside time for yourself each day. Meditate, do yoga, light a candle, get a massage, sit and read, or just sit quietly in the dark—whatever makes you calm and relaxed.
High-fat, high-sugar "comfort foods" can serve as chemical destressors. Momentary stress causes the body to seek these foods to fuel the quick burst of energy that is the core of the body’s stress response. Unfortunately, as a reaction to frequent or chronic stress, this habit can lead to obesity and health problems in the long run.