Why stress wreaks havoc on your body… and how to prevent this from happening

5 tips how to reduce the effects of stress

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Help! Steam is coming out of my ears. What should I do now? Panic!!!

Everybody feels stress sometimes. Some people deal better with stress than others. In part this is nature and nurture. How your body functions (how does it cope with cortisol?) and how you were raised will be an important determinant in how you’re able to deal with stress.

That’s great you think, but I wasn’t reading this article just to see that I can’t do anything about my stress levels…

Luckily, there is definitely something you can do about stress!

I’ll tell you all about it in this article, after also discussing what stress is, how it is caused and how it interacts between your work life and personal life.

What are your stressors?

Stress is defined as a bodily reaction to external and internal stimuli (stressors) that cause mental and physical symptoms. These symptoms are due to an increase in stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Stressors can be quite personal, but there’s of course also a lot of commonalities from person to person. In this article, I describe 6 general problems that occur at work which often cause stress.

Examples of stressors are:

  • Too much workload
  • (Perceived) lack of control
  • Being treated unfairly
  • Difficulties in balancing obligations at home and at work

The latter example may be one of the biggest challenges there are. More about this in the next section

Combining expectations at home and at work

Both men and women have an increasingly responsibility to both take care of the children. Also, due to ever increasing prices, both have to work to be able to pay the mortgage. Combine this with the increased pressures from society (we have to do it all and do it well), this is a major source of stress.

But of course, a job is difficult to combine with also raising your children. For example, after again a night of no or little sleep , it is not always easy to keep it all together the next day.

This article contains a podcast about mothers combining raising their children and also doing a good job at work. It’s based on 135 interviews conducted among mothers in Germany, Italy, Sweden and US.

The outcome of these interviews was that women were more stressed, because there is less support there from the government, employers or their partners.

The main reason was that they did not feel like a good mother. Also, they did not feel like a good employee. Because they feel like they have to do it all, they experience a lot of stress.

In Sweden, this is completely different. During workdays, one would see a lot of fathers there with strollers going to the supermarket. The consensus in Swedish society is that the fathers AND mothers have an equal share in earning money and raising children. Therefore, the government also facilitates this with (for instance) paid leave for the fathers as well.

In the US this doesn’t happen. Tacitly, the US government therefore implies that women have a bigger role than men in raising their children.

In the Netherlands (where I live), I believe this is somewhere in the middle between the US and Sweden. When I became a father, I got 2 paid leave days. One day for being there for the birth of my daughter and one day for registering her as a Dutch citizen. As if it stops there ;). However, the Dutch government is now increasing these number of paid leave days for new fathers.

3 surprising stress statistics

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Ouch – my back hurts: about the physical signs of stress

High stress levels really wreak havoc on our bodies. Chronic stress can even cause cardio- vascular diseases and weight increases. It is important to be mindful of symptoms of stress, so you can take action to reduce your stress levels. Therefore, it is important to know what kind of stress related symptoms there are. Here are some of the major symptoms:

  • Quicker heartbeat
  • Headaches: Chronic headaches are caused by chronic stress in 47% of the cases.
  • Reduced immune system: there is research suggestion that chronic stress reduces the immune system, by checking the response of to the flu vaccine. People with chronic stress had a reduced immune system response.
  • Chronic pain: tension and pain in your neck and back. Increased cortisol levels caused by stress increase and cause these chronic pains.
  • Decreased energy and insomnia
  • Issues with intestines: stress increases the symptoms like a bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
  • Sweating

Fortunately, these symptoms can be reduced to a certain amount. What can you already do now to reduce your stress levels?

Tips to reduce stress

Luckily, you should not just be a victim to circumstances. Although life may be difficult at times, there are things you can do to reduce your stress levels. This is difficult, but very possible.

1. Be clear in your priorities

When you’re feeling overdrawn, it’s important to take a moment to reflect. What is most important to you right now? Make sure to focus on that. Maybe it is better to make some difficult choices in other parts of your life, such as stopping a certain hobby to spend more time with your children, switching to a better fitting job etc. For more background on priority setting, definitely also check out this article: Essentialism and setting priorities.

2. Awareness and mindfulness

As mentioned in the section about the symptoms, it is important to be mindful of your body and your thoughts. Moreover, mindfulness and meditation are techniques that are proven to reduce the levels of stress. For more background, also check this article about mindfulness.

3. Nutrition to prevent stress

This is not rocket science people! Nutrition is directly related to stress levels.
When you eat unhealthy and drink too much, then of course you will have lower energy levels and will therefore be less able to deal with stress. So don’t eat fast food and go easy on the caffeine.

If you eat bad food, this is not good for your stress levels. Therefore, make sure to eat whole grain products and enough fruit and vegetables.

Studies suggest that vitamin C reduces stress hormones while at the same time increasing the effectiveness of your immune system. Therefore, it’s a smart move to eat an orange regularly.

A shortage of magnesium is related to energy shortage and headaches. Spinach, other leafy vegetables, salmon and soybeans contain much magnesium. Also nuts like almonds and cashews are high on magnesium.

Omega 3, which is also contained in fatty fish like salmon and Tuna, has been shown to curb stress levels.

4. Addressing core concerns

There are general issues that you may have at your job that you need to address to be effective and feel good. Examples I already mentioned are: too much workload, being treated unfairly, lack of control etc. Please view this article about preventing burn-outs for a more in-depth analysis on this topic.

5. Positive thoughts

This may sound cheesy, but it is important to have positive thoughts. If you tend to be pessimistic, remember: negative thoughts are just as unrealistic as positive ones. However, positive thoughts – when realistic – can help you drive action in the right direction. Therefore, it is good to write down 3 positive actions you took that day before you go to sleep. By doing this, you train your brain to be more positive and you will get a more positive mindset.

I can’t help it!

Stress can be detrimental to your health. Therefore it is vital to deal with this effectively. By applying the tips in this post you definitely have some tips for developing or improving your coping mechanisms to stress. There are people who feel like a victim when overworked: “I can’t help it”. However, this is a dangerous mindset. Of course, a lot of tragic things can happen and you may be treated unfairly. Still, you are able to choose your own response. Where it is difficult, it is not impossible deal with stress. This was the post for this week. I definitely hope you enjoyed it and inspired you to take some positive action. On your way out, don’t forget to like and share the post and I’ll see you back on here next week for a new article!

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