9 Ways to Manage Stress and New Study on Its Lifelong Benefits
7 minute read
If you learn to manage stress in your life at a young age, it may help you live a healthier life as an adult. Conversely, the inability to manage stress can lead to health issues such as psychopathologies, drug addiction, mood disorders, anxiety, addiction to gambling, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other issues.
A recent study from Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, published in Science News, looked at exposure to stress in rats during their adolescence, and how their ability to manage the stress played a role in their mental health development.
Effects of Stress
The researchers in the study mentioned above measured the endocrine response to stress that was administered in adolescence. The first exposure to stress was the same for all of the rats in the study.
Then, one group of rats was placed in a situation where they could control the amount of stress they received by behaving in a certain manner. The other group could not control their stress. A third group was the control group and underwent no stress at all.
The results showed that the group that could control the stress they were exposed to had a decreased reaction in their hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). Our HPA axis is what helps our nervous system response to stress.
Conversely, the group that had no control over stress had higher HPA responses and motor impulsivity, and a decrease in cognitive flexibility. This group also showed an increase in the number of dopamine type 2 receptors in an area of the brain which is involved with impulsivity and cognitive inflexibility.
The study suggests that strategies aimed at increasing the ability to manage uncontrollable stress during adolescence could lessen the negative effects of stress in adulthood, and possibly reduce mental health challenges down the line.
Why It’s Important to Manage Stress
Whether you’re concerned about the harmful effects of stress on your children or on yourself, learning ways to manage stress or to manage your reactions to stress can be very beneficial. While the study proves that learning coping methods can be useful later in life, they certainly play a role in how stress affects you in the present moment as well.
Experiencing stress can make you feel frustrated and irritable, but it can do much more harm than that. According to a review in the EXCLI Journal of Experimental and Clinical Services, based on the severity of stressors, they can lead to changes in homeostasis to life-threatening effects and even death. They categorize stress as either a triggering or an aggravating factor for many diseases and pathological conditions.
Ways to Manage Stress
Many healthcare-related professionals will suggest stress management techniques, even the American Heart Association lists tips for managing stress to boost heart health and overall well-being.
If you’re looking to manage the stress in your life or manage your reactions to unavoidable stressors, the following tips can help you manage stress and lead a happier, healthier life.
1. Schedule Your Day
Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the things that come at you in a day, start scheduling everything. You’ll feel better going into the day knowing what’s ahead of you.
No matter what exercise it is or what shape you’re in, physical activity boosts your endorphins and other chemicals that make you feel better.
3. Avoid Bad Choices
Too often you’ll see people reach for a candy bar, a drink, cigarettes, drugs, and other stress relievers that instead of helping the problem, they can actually compound them.
4. Have a Healthy Snack
Sometimes when stress feels like it’s building it’s because your body is tired or hungry and simply not able to work at optimum levels. A healthy snack may help you feel better.
5. Sleep More
How much sleep you get will impact your entire body, and if you’re not getting enough sleep your whole body will respond negatively. Establishing a routine of 7-9 hours of sleep will improve your overall health, as well as your ability to manage stress.
6. Be Social
Connect with others, in person. Get together with friends and family, or even business associates. If you don’t want to do that, then volunteer for a charitable group. Whatever you decide to do, spend time with others on a personal level, it will help you feel connected.
7. Art Therapy
Whether its music, painting, dancing, knitting—-whatever your favorite artistic pursuit—-doing it can help relieve stress. If you’re not artistically inclined, that’s okay too. Try something new and bank on the experience, not your level of accomplishment.
There are several different types of meditation you can try to help relax your body and mind. The sense of calm and peace you get from meditation is good for physical and mental health. You may also find that as you relax and meditate, you’re better able to let go of the things that don’t matter and find a practical plan of attack for managing the things that do.
9. Seek Help
Therapy or counseling sessions are a smart way to approach managing stress. The one-on-one connection with a professional will help you narrow down the causes for the stress, and how you find the best way to manage it. Mental health professionals are experts in this field, which makes them the ones to see if you feel you’ve tried everything, and you’re still overwhelmed.
The Bottom Line
Learning to manage stress as a child or as an adolescent will help you later in life. Taking those coping skills through the trials and tribulations you experience will help you deal with the situation at hand, which can lead to greater physical and mental health in the long run.
An inability to manage stress appears to have a cumulative effect, which can lead to a snowballing of symptoms which negatively impacts health. This illustrates why it’s important to learn stress management techniques and become adept at using them.
The earlier a person has the tools to respond to the stressors they have in life in healthy ways, the better off they’ll be in the long run.