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Everyone becomes stressed sometimes. Stress is a normal part of life and can be positive in short bursts, such as when it helps a person avoid an accident or meet a deadline. However, too much emotional or mental stress endured for too long a time becomes harmful. And for someone in recovery from addiction, too much stress can be especially dangerous. Understanding stress and how to successfully manage it can mean the difference between staying sober and relapsing.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the feeling of physical or emotional tension, and many life events or situations can cause stress. It can result from any thought or event that causes a person to feel nervous, angry, excited, or frustrated.
Stress can be triggered when an individual:
- Feels they are unable to cope with emotional or mental pressure
- Is feeling overwhelmed
- Feels they have little or no control over a situation
- Feels their sense of self is threatened
- Experiences something unexpected or new
Two Main Types of Stress
The two main types of stress are acute stress and chronic stress.
1 – Acute stress is short-term. A person experiences acute stress when they are in a dangerous situation that quickly resolves itself or when doing something exciting or new. Everyone experiences acute stress from time to time. It is often helpful. Acute stress can be caused by:
- An argument with a loved one
- Slamming on the brakes to avoid an accident
- Riding a roller-coaster
- Experiencing a person breaking into your home when you are not there
- Receiving criticism from your boss
- Snowboarding down a mountain
2 – According to Yale Medicine, chronic stress is the constant feeling of being overwhelmed and pressured that lasts over a long time period. This type of stress seems to be never-ending. It slowly damages the individual’s brain and body while draining their psychological resources. Over time, chronic stress increases the person’s blood pressure, breathing rate, resting heart rate, and muscle tension levels. These changes cause the body to work harder in order to function normally at rest, often leading to many serious health problems. Several situations that can lead to chronic stress include:
- Working every day in a toxic environment
- Constantly fighting with your partner
- Being unable to meet financial obligations
- Providing long-term care to elderly or ill loved ones
- Dealing with unclear expectations
- Feeling isolated and alone
The Stress Reaction of Fight-or-Flight
When a person experiences stress, their blood pressure rises, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released, and extra blood goes to the muscles as the body prepares itself to act. This is the body’s normal biological response to stress, and is known as the fight-or-flight response. The body is prepared to react to the danger either by staying and facing the threat or fleeing to safety.
This is why an experience of acute stress is much less harmful to the body than chronic stress. When the fight-or-flight response can be used and then dissolved quickly, the stress hormones do not build up in the body. When the stress is prolonged, keeping the body in constant fight-or-flight mode, the body breaks down and is more prone to sickness and injury.
Coping Strategies for Managing Stress
- Exercise: Almost any form of exercise can help relieve stress. When a person is active, their feel-good endorphins are released, and they are distracted from everyday worries. Exercise improves mood and self-esteem, decreases fatigue, and increases cognitive function and concentration.
- Practice mindfulness: When a person practices mindfulness, they clear their mind and focus on the present moment, paying complete attention to what they are doing without judgment or criticism. When a person practices mindfulness, their breathing slows, their heart rate slows, and they become more relaxed.
- Practice good nutrition: Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps your mind and body feel better and helps reduce stress levels. It helps provide the body with the extra energy needed to deal with stressful events. Stress depletes specific vitamins such as B complex, A, C, and E.
- Make positive changes: Avoid stressful people, places, or situations. If you cannot avoid something, try to alter it. Learn to say “no” to avoid taking on too much or doing something you
do not want to do.
- Express your feelings: Do not keep your feelings bottled up. If someone or something is bothering you, communicate your concerns in a respectful, assertive way. Voicing your feelings will stop resentment from building and reduce stress.
- Practice gratitude: Practicing gratitude is a simple coping strategy that helps put things in perspective. If you feel stressed, take a minute and think about what you appreciate in your life, and even consider keeping a gratitude journal. Make sure to include your positive qualities.
If You Need Help
Don’t let stress lead you to addiction or relapse. If you or a loved one struggles with drug or alcohol use, help is available. Take the first step toward getting the help you need. Call and speak to a professional at Canyon Vista Recovery Center located in Mesa, Arizona. We will answer your questions and help you begin your journey to living a sober life.