Long-term stress increases the risk of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, poor sleep, and muscle tension.
fight or flight
Stress is nature’s response to danger and is genetically linked to the human body. While short-term stress can actually make us more efficient and attentive, say when we’re preparing for a match, job interview, or exam. Usually, after a stressful event, the body returns to its normal state. On the other hand, the effects of long-term stress can be very harmful.
As a bipolar disorder patient, I have dealt with both short and long term stress. Flights create short-term stress in me. So does illness in the family. Often times, I feel anxious for no reason. It feels like stress has become my body’s default setting. My body cannot distinguish between real and imagined tension, and it reacts the same way to both. My muscles tense, especially in the neck. I feel a strange fluttering sensation in the pit of my stomach and tingling in my tongue. I sweat a lot. Not being able to handle stress naturally, resulted in a large portion of it being in my body.
It’s like a car alarm that is faulty and not only goes on when someone tries to unlock the car but at any time at all for no reason. This long-term stress can contribute to physical and mental illness. It can affect heart function, immune system, metabolism, and hormones. It increases the risk of depression and anxiety. Recent studies have shown that long-term stress can alter the structure of the brain, especially in areas that support learning and memory. It can affect both neurons (gray matter) and the connections between them (white matter). It can cause the immune system to work overtime and thus can negatively affect the brain.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after experiencing a very traumatic or stressful event. Long after the incident has ended, the person may experience vivid flashbacks or nightmares, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Finding effective ways to deal with stress is critical to living well.
Know your triggers And see how you can neutralize it. For example, I get nervous when I have to take a trip. So before I ride one, I make sure my phone has plenty of card games, word games, and crossword puzzles. I buy a romance novel at the airport. These actions help distract my mind and reduce stress. But what really helped were a few sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy. It works wonders.
If your trigger is tight deadlines, get up two hours early and complete the task that bothers you the most, long before your workday begins. Waiting until the last minute will definitely make things worse.
Or, if it’s storms that excite you, turn off the sounds of wind and thunder by closing all doors and windows. Draw the curtains and watch a light TV movie or movie. Once you don’t hear or see the storm, it may not bother you. When inclement weather bothers me, I sleep with a cup of hot chocolate and a book. You can define your safe space.
Practice relaxation. pranayam, meditate, Cheering and systematic muscle relaxation can help you calm down. You can take several short breaks between work and practice. Once your mind calms down, it remains in this state for some time. Someone I know meditates for an hour every morning and this keeps him calm all day.
Exercise daily. Exercising releases happy hormones and relieves stress. Choose something fun, like Bollywood dancing, salsa and cycling.
Take your time to relax. Make time for things that take your mind off stress. If you enjoy reading, make time for it. Play with a pet, listen to music, watch a comedy, or get an aromatherapy massage. This way you avoid chronic stress.
Eat well. Eating unprocessed foods, such as whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits, is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.
Get enough sleep. Try to have a regular sleep schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
Avoid alcohol and drugs. They don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, they often make it worse. Talk to someone. Whether it’s to friends, family, or a counselor, expressing your feelings can help. Consider joining a support group.
If the steps you’ve taken don’t work, it’s time to consult a mental health professional. He or she can help you identify specific events that motivate you, and develop an action plan to change them.
(Shobha Menon is an author and mental health advocate. She is a peer support specialist, DBSA-certified Depression and Bipolar Support, USA)