When does stress become toxic?

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Here’s the thing, we all need a bit of stress. It helps us to perform under pressure and motivates us to do our best.

Here’s the thing, we all need a bit of stress. It helps us to perform under pressure and motivates us to do our best.

However, in life we all experience high stress events – such as relationship difficulties, illness, bereavement, unemployment.

With toxic stress, there is a cost to your physical and emotional health.

Too often people try to cope with stress in ways that make the problem worse. It’s easy to turn to drink to unwind at the end of the day, fill up on junk food, or space out in front of the television.

When it comes to tackling any emotional difficulty, the more information you have, the closer you are to overcoming it – and it’s the same for controlling stress.

What is stress, and when does it become toxic?

Stress is a feeling that we get when struggling to cope with the pressures of life. When under stress our body responds by producing two powerful hormones: adrenaline and cortisol.

The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. So whether it’s having an argument with a friend or being late for an appointment, your body reacts almost as strongly as if you were facing a life or death situation.

These hormones are the body’s emergency response. The heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens and senses become sharper.

When stress is persistent, chronic and long term, the situation is toxic, harming our health, mood, productivity and relationships.

Extensive exposure can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the life risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer, contribute to infertility and leave you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. It can also cause ulcers, migraines and insomnia.

Change how you react

This is the most important strategy, however it’s the hardest to work on. In my book “Becoming Your Real Self – A practical toolkit for managing life’s challenges’, I provide these steps.

Set realistic expectations: Many of us set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others, which can induce stress.

When we make our expectations more reasonable, we gain a sense of control over our lives, and are able to plan and prepare ourselves both physically and psychologically.

boost your coping strategy

Researchers have found that physical exercise can reduce stress through its release of endorphins, the body’s natural antidepressant hormone; and by helping us to use up the excess energy stress can create.

Try Mindfulness

Many of us find that it can become difficult to concentrate on a given task, because our mind is filled with preoccupying thoughts, concerns or worries.

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing your attention on what is happening in a precise moment. While this may sound simple, some people find that they tend to slip into absent-mindedness or automatic thinking.

Focusing awareness, such as the feeling of your feet while walking, or focusing on the feeling of breathing in and out, can help to reduce stress responses.

Talk about your feelings

Talk to a friend, spouse, or anyone who makes you feel comfortable. If you feel you have noone you can talk to, or feel you cannot share a problem with someone you know, there are support lines available. Talking about your feelings is one of the best relievers of stress.

I encourage you to tackle your stress before it becomes something worse.