What Stress Does and How to Stop It

You don’t have to live under a state of constant stress, nor should you. You can learn how to stay calm, stay healthy, and go the distance.

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Photo credit: Bernard Goldbach

I’ve been studying stress lately and it’s crazy how much it messes up your body. Here’s what we know:

  • Stress shortens your lifespan. It is literally killing you.
  • Stress makes you more likely to get sick. It’s a setup for a whole host of diseases.
  • Stress disrupts your gut’s ability to properly digest food and absorb nutrients. It doesn’t really matter how healthy your last meal was if you were stressed out while eating it.
  • Stress kills your existing brain cells and makes it harder to grow new ones. So in that sense, stress makes you stupid.
  • When you’re stressed, every region of your brain shuts down except for the one which governs fight or flight. In this state, you are not thinking logically about the best course of action. Instead, you are in survival mode, trying to decide if you should run away or attack. 
  • Stress makes it harder for you to remember things. Kind of a big deal since we live in the information age and “There is no learning without remembering.” – Socrates
  • Stress spikes your blood sugar levels, increases insulin production, and raises blood pressure.
  • Stress makes you fat. Specifically, in the abdomen, where it’s most dangerous to your health.
  • Stress can lead to depression. So not only do you feel feel frazzled, but you also feel defeated. Great.
  • Ready for more? Stress also makes it harder for you to focus, harder for you to sleep, harder for you to unwind, harder for you to relate well with others. AND it’s a total setup for unhealthy coping strategies such as overeating, overdrinking, bascially overanything. 

So that’s the bad news. Quite a lot of it.

But here’s the good news: stress is a choice.

Okay, okay. Not always. If you’re being attacked by a mugger, you probably don’t have much say in the matter. If you’re living in an abusive situation, stress is understandable. If you’re fleeing a war-torn country in search of a safe place to call home, stress is part of the process. Or if you’re the eggs. Yeah, that’s legit.

Stress can be helpful when you need to engage a threat or run away from it. But most of us are not living in life or death situations day in and day out. You probably weren’t chased by a lion last week. And your village probably won’t be assailed by a band of marauders tomorrow.

The fact is, stress is often what we make of it. We do have a say in the matter. We can choose how much we let things get to us. We can learn how to prevent, decrease, and cope with stress in ways that are healthy and sustainable. So let’s look at how to do that.

Here are five ways to prevent stress:

  1. Give yourself a head start by taking care of your body every day: get the sleep, exercise, diet, and downtime you need to be at your best. This is basic preventative maintenance.
  2. Take a day off every week. Allow yourself to regularly disengage from the demands of life so you have the energy to tackle them more effectively.
  3. Know your emotions. Grow your emotional intelligence. You can’t stop stress if you can’t catch it.
  4. Get some perspective. Study the world. Move beyond yourself. If you live in a developed nation, you’re so-called emergencies probably aren’t.
  5. If you’ve got a bunch of baggage from the past that’s constantly tripping you up, find a good pastor/counselor/therapist etc. to help you work through it so that your life is not one long string of triggers and explosions.

And here are eight ways to de-escalate stress:

  1. Step away from the situation. Odds are, it doesn’t have to be resolved right this second.
  2. Breathe deeply and slowly through your nose. This lowers your heart rate and tells your body that it’s going to be okay.
  3. Take a walk outside. Feel, smell, see, touch, hear. The world is bigger than the thing that’s bugging you.
  4. Pray/meditate/get in tune with a higher power. The Bible is full of exhortations to go to God with our worries, fears, shame, anger, etc.
  5. Share what’s going on inside with emotionally safe and healthy people. Sometimes just talking about it can begin to deflate it.
  6. Listen to relaxing music. It’s proven to lower stress and it helps you to distance yourself from whatever perceived threat you’re facing.
  7. Laugh. Again, there’s science behind this. Find the humor in the situation itself or find it elsewhere from a show, podcast, or friend.
  8. Make a plan for how to deal with the problem. Instead of thinking about what you can’t do, think about what you can do.

You don’t have to live under a state of constant stress, nor should you. You can learn how to stay calm, stay healthy, and go the distance. Yes, it takes practice. Yeah, sometimes it’s hard. You may have to leave behind dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors you’ve become accustomed to. But it’s so worth it. You’re worth it. Don’t let stress get the best of you.

Author: Dave Mierau (Meer-oh)

Christ follower, family man, lifelong learner.

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