We’ve all felt the pressure of an impending deadline or an overwhelming schedule. Sometimes that pressure can build and build until we feel like we might explode! This feeling of pressure is related to our body’s stress response. Stress can be beneficial in some situations, but when it is not managed properly it can lead to complications. Let’s take a closer look at stress and strategies to get it under control.
What is Stress?
Stress is our body’s way of preparing us to take on a task or challenge; it is a type of “fight or flight” response. While stress is often deemed a negative thing, it is actually meant to help us.
Good Stress vs Bad Stress
You might be so used to feeling overwhelmed or stressed out that you are wondering how stress could possibly benefit you. The truth is, our bodies create these feelings of stress to prepare us to face the challenges ahead. Short-term stress can help you feel more alert and energetic, so you can tackle whatever tasks you are facing. It is when stress continues for days, weeks, or months without any resolution that it can start to take a toll on your mental and physical health.
Signs and Symptoms of Unhealthy Stress Levels
Stress may affect you so frequently that you don’t recognize when it begins to take a negative toll on your health. Long-term or high levels of stress can impact your physical, mental, and emotional health. Some signs that your stress may be overwhelming include changes in eating habits, sleep patterns, and energy levels. Stress can also make you feel irritable, depressed, or anxious. Sometimes stress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain, and digestion problems. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may need help managing your stress.
Prescription Medication for Stress Management
When stress starts to impact your ability to function or your health, there are some medications that can be used to help you manage your stress.
Benzodiazepines are often used to help those who suffer from anxiety. They work by relaxing the mind and body. These medications work well to reduce stress in the moment, and they can benefit those who suffer from panic attacks or high levels of anxiety. Unfortunately, they do not help address the cause of stress. This means when they wear off, you may experience stress and anxiety symptoms again.
Beta-blockers are a class of medications that reduce heart rate and blood pressure. They are used to help with symptoms of anxiety because they can reduce the physical symptoms people experience when they are anxious. They block the signals that can cause shaking and sweating when you are feeling anxious. Similar to benzodiazepines, these are often used to control symptoms in the moment and do not address the source of stress.
Antidepressants are the first treatment choice for those who suffer from generalized anxiety or chronic stress-related anxiety. There are many classes of antidepressants used to treat anxiety including SSRIs, SNRIs, tricyclics, and buspirone. They help reduce symptoms and feelings of anxiety by affecting the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. These medications work best when they are taken every day instead of as needed.
Risks of Using Stress Medication
While medications can work well to reduce symptoms and prevent complications of anxiety, they are not foolproof. Each type of medication carries their own risks. Benzodiazepines can make people feel very drowsy or loopy, and they can be addicting. Beta-blockers are not the best choice for people with diabetes or asthma, and they can cause low blood pressure, weight gain, and cold intolerance. Antidepressants can impact sleep, sexual function, and weight; some can increase suicidal thoughts in some patients. All of these risks, along with the benefits of these medications, should be discussed with your primary care or mental health provider before starting medications.
Stress Management Strategies
Medications can be useful for helping you manage your symptoms of stress or anxiety, but they are often most effective when they are used in combination with therapy or other stress-management strategies. There are many steps you can take to improve you stress levels and reduce the impact stress has on your life.
There are some strategies you can implement to help reduce stress or manage stress. Finding a hobby that you enjoy such as journaling or cooking can help take your mind off of your stress. Exercise can also improve your physical health and provide an outlet for anxious energy. Sharing your experiences and concerns with a close friend or family member can also help you feel better if you are struggling to manage stress. Making a list of tasks you have to do or utilizing a planner can help you accomplish these things and reduce your stress levels.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises have been used for years to help people who are experiencing anxiety or stress. These exercises work by allowing you to step away from the cause of your stress. Taking deep breaths sends signals to the body that it is time to relax, which can reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety or stress. Focusing on your breathing also gives your mind a break from your stress.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique used to help reduce stress by consciously relaxing different muscle groups. During this practice, you would contract one muscle group for a few seconds, then relax those muscles while focusing on how that feels. This should be repeated for different muscle groups throughout the body until you are feeling physically and mentally calmer.
Mindfulness is a proven strategy for reducing anxiety and stress by focusing on the present. Mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day, but it is most often associated with meditation. Mindfulness is meant to provoke gratitude for the people you are with, the environment around you, and your own thoughts and feelings. It can help reduce stress by shifting your focus to a positive perspective and reducing negative thoughts.
Herbal Supplements for Anxiety and Stress
There are some herbal and natural supplements that have been associated with reduced stress and anxiety. They include supplements such as valerian, passion flower, kava, chamomile, and hops. These supplements may be preferred by those who do not like taking medications or are not able to tolerate medications. Before taking any supplement, you should talk with your provider as these substances can interact with other medications you may take or impact your health.
Stress can get out of control before you know it, and over time it can negatively impact your mental and physical health. Addressing the causes of your stress can help you manage symptoms of anxiety. If you are feeling stressed out, you may benefit from lifestyle changes or mindfulness practice. If your feelings become overwhelming, do not hesitate to reach out to your provider for other options to get ahead of your stress and improve your health.