By: Malena Esposito
Let’s face it; avoiding stress in today’s society is practically impossible. It doesn’t have to be nearing a project deadline or exam week for a high school student to feel like they’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. But it doesn’t stop at high schoolers, either. Stress affects everyone, whether it be through student loans, business meetings, child needs, or medical bills. And although stress impacts most people, many don’t know how to deal with it, causing more unwanted stress and anxiety. But what exactly is stress?
Stress is a chain of events caused by a stressor: the thing someone worries about. For some it might be work or school, for others it might be home and kids. Regardless of the source, these stressors set your body into a physical response, causing your nerve signals to send your brain a message. The message reaches the amygdala, which then alerts the hypothalamus. The amygdala is the part of the brain that aids in decision-making and emotion regulation, while the hypothalamus controls the production of hormones. The faster-acting region of the nervous system then releases epinephrine (adrenaline), as well as other hormones and chemicals, such as cortisol. Almost all of your organ and tissue cells are covered with glucocorticoid receptors. Cortisol fits into these proteins perfectly, similar to a lock and key. While adrenaline makes the heart pound, cortisol boosts blood sugar. This causes your body to go into a “flight or fight” response. This response indicates a physiological reaction that occurs when faced with a terrifying immediate challenge. Your body is then being prepared to stay and fight or fly to safety.
After understanding what stress is, the next step to help deal with stress is to identify the cause. While some stressors are easily detectable, others are more hidden. Stressors are typically categorized into personal, social, and traumatic events. Personal problems include health, relationships, beliefs (such as political and religious views), life changes, and money. Social problems refer to occupational, discrimination, and environmental issues. Traumatic stressors can be caused by a shocking life event including robbery, natural disaster, sexual assault, war, or bullying, possibly even resulting in PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
It must then be determined whether it’s occurring over a short or long period of time. Short term stress is also called acute stress, and can give you the motivation to get through a presentation or meet a deadline. However, if this is continual, it may lead to long term (chronic) stress.
Everyone has their own special way of dealing with a tough situation, tailored to fit their personality and how they handle a difficult task. For some, this might be writing. This includes scheduling their day, making to-do lists, documenting their feelings and causes of stress in a stress diary. For others, it’s more physical. This might be going for a walk or run, riding a bike, doing yoga, or hitting the gym. Some mental activities that aid in stress-relief include picturing a positive outcome, finding humor in a rough spot, or talking it through with a friend or family member. Another way to deal with stress is to pick up a new daily hobby that you love. Even if you’re too busy, scheduling it into even 10 minutes of your day is enough to help easy your worry. Personally, my stress relief comes from multiple sources, especially depending on the source. In some cases, a run around the neighborhood or a trip to the gym might help me burn off some steam. In other cases, a warm bath and a long rant to my mom is exactly what I need. Most of the time, though, I am talking it out with my parents and writing out a scheduled to do list. Visually seeing it on paper makes the thoughts in my head seem less jumbled up, especially if I have a lot on my plate.
However, you could be doing just about all of these things and still feel stressed. That’s because the most important stress relievers are ones you might not even be aware of. They are sleep, diet, and hydration. It is recommended that teens and adults get at least 8 hours of rest per night. Lack of sleep causes agitation and impatience, causing your internal “bomb” to get set off quickly. A healthy diet keeps you fueled and focused, ready for the day’s challenges. An unhealthy diet includes a high starchy carbohydrate intake (breads and pastas) processed and packaged foods (chips and candy), excessive alcohol and caffeine drinking, and large levels of sugar consumption. It is also recommended that the daily water intake is half of your weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 120 pounds, you should be drinking 60 ounces of water every day, equivalent to 7.5 cups of water.
At the end of the day, almost every problem you are stressing over has a solution. There’s a saying that goes, “If it won’t matter in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes stressing over it.” I know that’s easier said than done, but following these tips can make you a happier, less worried, healthier person.