Stress is a part of life. A little stress can be helpful, but too often stress is more harmful than beneficial. Since there are many physical and mental health problems associated with stress, learning to manage your stress is one of the most important things you can do to enhance and maintain optimal health.
Stress is the body’s response to danger. This response helped our early ancestors survive threats to their existence. To survive an encounter with a predator, our ancestors had to attack ("fight") or run away ("flight"). The stress reaction — the fight-or-flight response — activates the nervous system, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and stimulates the body into action. Once the danger is gone, the fight-or-flight response fades and the body returns to its preferred state of balance.
When you experience stress, your body's alarm system is activated. This fight-or-flight response stimulates many of your body's processes so that you are prepared to deal with danger. Keeping your body in a stimulated state, especially if stress continues for extended periods of time, contributes to physical, mental and social problems. By managing your stress, you will reduce your risk of many problems.
Managing stress is best approached systematically. The five-step guide to stress management can help you structure the way you manage your stress. Use the stress management worksheet [PDF] to systematically plan your approach to stress management. (Refer to the stress management worksheet example [PDF] to see how this tool can be used.)
Adopting a healthy lifestyle enhances your health and reduces your vulnerability to stress. It also makes you better able to manage stress when it arises. After all, good health is arguably your greatest resource, and the more resources you have, the better able you are to manage stress. Consider the following:
- Eat healthfully: The best advice for healthy eating is to eat a plant-based diet. Consult the healthy eating section of our website for more information.
- Engage in regular physical activity: Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week. For more information on staying active, consult the physical activity section of our website.
- Don't use tobacco: If you use tobacco, the best thing you can do for your health is to quit. Consult the smoking cessation section of our website for more information. If you would like professional help to quit smoking, contact a Health Promotion Specialist at Health Services.
- Get sufficient, quality sleep: The best way to do this is to establish a routine: go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. To learn about other strategies for getting a good night's sleep, consult the sleep section of our website.
- Establish and maintain healthy relationships: The people in your life are extremely important resources for stress management. They provide help (such as feeding your cat when you are away), emotional support and much more that can help to relieve stress. Qualities of healthy relationships include a balance of taking and giving, sharing, expressing vulnerability, being trustworthy, and showing respect. Just as important as nurturing good relationships is letting go of bad ones. If there is someone in your life who is abusive or otherwise "toxic," consider breaking ties with them.
- Build skills: The problem-solving approach to stress management requires building and using skills to remove the danger that is causing your stress. Don't wait until you are stressed to learn these skills. The best time to build them is when you are not experiencing stress. Learn more about the skills you can build, and practice and refine them whenever you can.
- Find meaning and purpose: Think about ways you can connect with something bigger than yourself. Some ways to find meaning include: spending time outdoors, taking time to meditate, serving others (e.g., volunteer), and practicing a religion (consult the Muti-Faith and Spirituality Centre.)
If you are trying hard to reduce your stress and it is not working, consider meeting with a counselor or other mental health professional. Here at Concordia, you can you can meet with a counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services. You can also meet with a Health Promotion Specialist at Health Services or discuss your concerns with a nurse who can help you identify resources at Concordia or in the community. The mental health support services page lists additional mental health resources at Concordia and in the community.