By Brandon Pollock PhD, ACSM-EP-C
The weather is finally turning nice and summer is right around the corner, there is no reason to be stressed. Unfortunately for certain people stress is inevitable, and every day they must find a way to cope with it. Stress has become a popular term in today’s society, and many different cultures have now adopted this word into their everyday language. In general, stress is the process by which one responds to an environmental demand perceived as threatening. This response may be physical, behavioral, psychological, or a combination of more than one of these. Research has shown that biological and psychological damage; possibly even death may occur if a person is unable to cope with stress and restore proper homeostasis after exposure to a stressor. Stress management is a critical component of living a healthy lifestyle.
Do you have excessive stress?
Before you can manage stress, you need to be aware of its existence. Here are some signs that you may be experiencing excessive stress:
- Frequent headaches, jaw clenching, or pain
- Grinding teeth
- Neck ache or back pain
- Frequent sweating
- Dry mouth
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Sudden attacks of panic
Manage your stress with exercise and coping techniques
For quite some time exercise has been promoted as a possible method for reducing stress. Stress can be alleviated through aerobic activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. The high rate of oxygen consumption and repetitive large muscle movements promote stress-reducing benefits. More details on the positive effects exercise has on mental health can be found in my previous blog Exercise and Mental Health. In addition to exercise, coping is another technique used to alleviate, eliminate, and manage stress. There are several strategies for coping/ managing stress. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), cognitive and behavioral approaches are both important for decreasing the negative impact of stress.
Coping activities are geared toward decreasing a person’s concern of a discrepancy. Methods of coping with stress can be separated into two categories, problem-focused and emotion-focused. Depending on the situation, a person will be more inclined to engage in problem-focused or emotion –focused coping, but both are necessary and sometimes used in combination with one another.
Problem-focused coping involves a person attempting to reduce the demands of a stressful situation or expand their resources to deal with the situation. This method of coping may include seeking out information, asking a friend or professional for advice on how to handle the problem, or drawing from previous experience or knowledge. Quitting a stressful job, negotiating an extension on a deadline, or learning a new skill are some examples of problem-focused coping.
Emotion-focused coping is when a person attempts to control or manage the emotional response to a stressful event. Emotion-focused coping can include seeking emotional support from friends and family, engaging in sports, or watching television. People tend to use emotion-focused coping more when they believe that the stressful circumstances they are facing are not fixable.
Stress is a variable condition across individuals and perception of a stressful situation is completely unique to each individual. Stress can yield adverse physical, behavioral, and psychological effects and long-term chronic stressors can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer. Stress cannot be cured, but healthy stress management techniques such as exercise and problem-focused/ emotion-focused coping can greatly help improve upon symptoms of stress.
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