Don’t stress out.

Most – if not all – of us have heard that phrase at some point in our lives. You’ve likely even told it to yourself on occasion. Unfortunately, combatting stress is rarely as easy as simply refusing to do it.

Everyone experiences stress differently, so treating and avoiding it is never one-size-fits-all. What stresses one person may not bother another in the least. Some people thrive under pressure while others don’t. What helps you cope with stress might only make it worse for your friend or partner.

Despite the difficulty, learning to recognize and combat stress is extremely important for long-term health and happiness. In honor of April being Stress Awareness Month, take a look at some ways to identify harmful stress and take steps to relax under pressure.

What is stress?

Stress is a natural human experience that happens to everyone. Stress is actually a biological process – when we experience a stressful event or situation, chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline flood the body to trigger your fight-or-flight response. Your heart races, breathing becomes fast and shallow, muscles tense, and blood pressure rises, all to help you fight the threat or run away from it. Some of the most common sources of stress include job loss, marital or relationship problems, financial burdens, and political climates.

Stress isn’t always negative. In fact, stress can be healthy in small doses. It’s what causes you to slam on brakes to avoid hitting another car, and what motivates you to study hard for an approaching exam. However, severe and chronic stress can have unpleasant symptoms and ultimately harm your physical and mental health if left untreated.

That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs of harmful stress:

  • Physical: Headaches, Indigestion, Muscle Aches, Insomnia
  • Mental: Irritability, Difficulty Concentrating, Constant Worrying
  • Emotional: Anxious, Frustrated, Fearful
  • Behavioral: Emotional Withdrawal, Substance Abuse, Sleep Issues

How To Combat Stress

There’s no way to avoid stress completely, but there are ways to combat stress before it becomes a serious problem. Some healthy ways to manage stress include:

Make healthy food choices. Eat a healthy diet full of nutrient-rich foods to build a strong foundation. Foods rich in Omega-3s, Vitamin E, Vitamin B, and magnesium may help combat stress. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which are known to increase stress.

Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce and combat stress. Exercise improves sleep, produces chemicals that boost mood and positivity, reduces chronic pain, and strengthens the body against chronic stress. Bonus points if you exercise outdoors for an added boost of sunlight and fresh air!

Get enough quality sleep. Stress and sleep issues go hand-in-hand, so practice good sleep habits to minimize the chance of insomnia. Aim to sleep between7 and 9 hours each night. Set a sleep schedule. Avoid screen time an hour before going to bed.

Manage time on social media. If you find yourself spending long hours on social media, try reducing your scroll time or even taking a lengthy break. You can fill that time with more personal activities like actually visiting with friends and family!

Try relaxation techniques. Active relaxation reduces your sympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s response to a perceived threat. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises are great ways to practice active relaxation that can be done easily in the comfort of your home.

Set realistic goals and expectations. Know your limitations and don’t expect more than you’re capable of giving. Be mindful of what you can control and work to let go of things you cannot change.

Ask for help. Recognize when you need extra help from a trusted friend or health professional. Don’t be afraid to speak with a counselor or therapist if your stress is severe or affecting the quality of your life.