Stress is an inevitable part of life. A little bit of stress can actually be beneficial, motivating us into action and helping sharpen our focus. But extreme, chronic stress takes a real toll both mentally and physically. When stress reaches excessive levels, our mind and body systems essentially become overloaded. Hormones flood through us, our heart races, muscles tense up. We have trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, feel angry, worried or blue. Left unchecked, extreme stress hampers nearly every aspect of health and wellbeing. It takes a real effort to dial it back down. But with committed self-care and lifestyle adjustments, you can get your mind and body back into a state of calm and balance.
Understand the Stress Response
The first step in managing extreme stress is understanding what happens in your body when you feel highly stressed. Initially, a structure in your brain called the amygdala senses a threat which activates your body’s natural “fight or flight” response. Your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which speed your heart rate, tighten muscles, spike blood pressure and blood sugar. This reaction is the body’s way of preparing to respond to an acute crisis. But when threats feel constant and stress stays sky high, being in fight or flight mode round the clock puts major strain on your cardiovascular, immune and nervous systems. Learning relaxation techniques helps turn off the stress response.
Look At Lifestyle Factors
Take a close look at your daily habits and environment to spot factors unnecessarily raising your stress levels. Lack of sleep, poor eating habits, information overload from digital devices all drain energy and resilience for handling stress. If your workplace environment or relationships frequently trigger stress reactions, you may need help setting better boundaries. Make a list of stress-inducing behaviors or situations you experience regularly. Even small tweaks like shutting off devices an hour before bedtime, adding a vegetable to meals or saying no to unnecessary obligations can lower background stress significantly.
Try Stress-Busting Techniques
Mastering techniques specifically designed to counteract the stress response goes a long way in reversing excessive strain. Deep breathing prompts your body to start relaxing almost instantly. Try slowing inhaling deeply to a count of five, filling your belly with air then exhale slowly to a count of eight. Repeat several times whenever feeling stressed. Progressive muscle relaxation involves systematically tensing and relaxing muscle groups to melt away tension. Starting at the toes, tightly clench muscles for about five seconds, then release for 30 seconds before moving up the body. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness training all integrate breath, movement and mental focus to induce relaxation. Take a class or follow along with free apps or online videos.
Move Your Body
Physical activity provides a constructive outlet for stress energy. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise like walking, cycling or dancing spurs anti-anxiety biochemical changes. Shoot for at least 30 minutes daily of heart-pumping activity you enjoy. Weight training builds muscle mass often depleted by high stress. Activities requiring focus and coordination like rock climbing, dance lessons or golf can redirect your mind away from stressful thoughts. Explore local parks, recreational centers, dance studios or community education programs for affordable options. Stay open to trying new activities you may discover you love.
Support Your Health
Extreme stress often coincides with exhausted adrenal glands, strained nervous system and depleted nutrients which compound negative effects. Work with a functional or naturopathic medicine practitioner to identify specific supplements your body may need for support. Adaptogens herbs like ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng help strengthen resistance to stress damage. Magnesium, B complex vitamins, zinc, omega 3’s and vitamin C aid nervous system repair and offset nutrient depletion from stress. Don’t overlook the importance of human connection. Make time for supportive personal relationships. Consider joining a support group, talking to a counselor or volunteering to help others as pathways to boosting resilience.
The difficulties of modern life inevitably produce some degree of stress for us all. But with greater self-awareness, dedication to self-care fundamentals and practical stress relief skills, you can minimize the health impacts of extreme stress. Regaining more balance empowers you to feel in control of your mind, body and life rather than feeling like stress controls you. Make your mental and physical wellbeing the priority it deserves to be. You can get your mind and body back on track to a healthier state of equilibrium.