Maintaining Your Health When Stress Won’t Go Away

One word: 2020. I can’t remember a time when the stress level for every person across the country (if not the world) has been so high. I won’t spend time belaboring the many deeper reasons, but on a basic level, the social structure of our lives has changed. Our everyday habits have been altered. Our social norms have been upended. You know, just visiting the grocery store, where masks make it hard to hear people and read their facial expressions, has created so many weird and awkward moments.

We’re living with a higher everyday stress level. With the constant stress, our health and wellbeing can start to erode. In previous blogs, we’ve walked through the negative effects of stress and ideas for dealing with it. In this blog, I’m hoping that while you read, you realize and recognize the stress. Yes, that is it. Give yourself permission to say, “I feel stressed.”

Why such a “simple” goal, you ask? For the foreseeable future, your high-level stress isn’t going to dissipate (for me, too). We want to avoid the unhealthy scenario where “we can be physiologically experiencing stress yet mentally numb to it because we’ve become so accustomed to it.” (Read more on How Stress Affects the Body.) I have seen a lot of the second point in this article.

Let’s have a psychologist give us more insight and clarification:

As a human being, you are going to have all kinds of emotions, just like there are all kinds of weather. These emotions are, more than anything else, just a part of being a living human being. By accepting your emotional life, you are affirming your full humanity. Emotional acceptance is thus a far better strategy than avoidance.  Emotional acceptance refers to the willingness and ability to accept and experience the negative emotion, to acknowledge and absorb it. Acceptance offers several advantages. First, by accepting your emotions, you are accepting the truth of your situation (i.e., it is snowing). This acceptance means that you don’t have to spend your energy pushing the emotion away. Instead, once the emotion is acknowledged, you can then turn to pursue the behaviors that are aligned with your goals and values. (from Emotional Acceptance: Why Feeling Bad is Good by Noam Shpancer PhD)

That last phrase is really practical. When you acknowledge the emotion (the stress, the sadness, frustration, so on), you can “turn to pursue the behaviors that are aligned with your goals and values” — like (as we often talk about on this blog) — staying healthy.

Learn to Gauge Your Emotions. You’ll Make Better Choices.

When we take a step back and more accurately see “our starting point,” we can ask ourselves helpful questions to make better decisions. For example, you might have an internal conversation where you realize that you’re super tired after working long weeks at home and being in close proximity to family. You realize you have some upcoming obligations that you can’t avoid or cancel, and therefore, you ask yourself, “What can I do to make the next month more doable and successful?”

When you start to understand and gauge your current state of being (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc.) you can plan for the long haul.

Still think a conversation on emotions/stress is superfluous? Researchers at Yale found that chronic stress (as well as chronic abuse and trauma) affect the brain. 

“‘The accumulation of stressful life events may make it more challenging for these individuals to deal with future stress, particularly if the next demanding event requires effortful control, emotion regulation, or integrated social processing to overcome it,’ said Emily Ansell, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study.

“Sinha said that the study illustrates the need to address causes of stress in life ‘and find ways to deal with the emotional fallout.’

“‘The brain is dynamic and plastic and things can improve — but only if stress is dealt with in a healthy manner,’ Sinha said. ‘If not, the effects of stress can have a negative impact on both our physical and mental health.’”

Your goal (my goal!) is to deal with today’s stress in a healthy manner. And just realizing it is the best first step. If you’re looking to read more about ways to deal with stress, check out those previous blogs on the topic. But tonight, maybe unplug from the news and social media. I know I’ve benefited from taking a step back from the constant negativity. I’ll be doing the same tonight too.