Physical and biological responses to stress can really mess with our health. We experience varying levels of this emotion every day, so it’s good to draw some attention to some of the unconscious responses to stress that have the potential to damage our wellbeing.
Here are 4 things you probably do when stressed, along with 4 things you can do to cope with them:
Common Stress Responses
TENSING YOUR MUSCLES
When you’re stressed you may unconsciously clench your jaw, tighten up your shoulders, or clench your fists. You probably won’t realize it in the moment, but this habit can lead to pain down the road.
A tight jaw can lead to headaches or neck aches, and it can also lead to teeth grinding while sleeping. Teeth grinding can also be a source of pain as it can cause tooth sensitivity, receding gums, and headaches.
Do This Instead: Make a conscious effort to relax your muscles. When you notice you are feeling anxious or stressed, try doing a full-body scan in your mind and relaxing each group of muscles as you go.
Eating has a special connection with stress. Psychology Today explains that stress involves the release of the hormone cortisol. When you have this hormone in your system, your brain sees it and automatically stops producing more so your system isn’t overloaded with it. However, the role it plays in your body is part of the reason why you feel comforted by eating.
Cortisol tells your body to prepare immediate energy for your muscles to either fight or flee from the stressful situation. When you “stress eat” you’re psychologically comforted by the fact that you are replenishing the energy stores your body has been demanding.
Do This Instead: When we have access to high-calorie foods, it’s more difficult to turn down the impulse to stress eat. Try to avoid stocking those foods or buy only a small amount. If you don’t have a lot, you’re likely to eat them less often because you’ll want to stretch your supply to last longer. The preferred solution, however, would be to address the source of the stress. That is the healthiest long-term solution.
NOT EATING ENOUGH
The opposite of stress eating can also be true. Sometimes, when your stomach is in knots, you’ll find you don’t have the desire to eat at all. The Cleveland Clinic explains that this is more about not noticing your hunger cues because you’re so focused on the stressor. It’s important to note this distinction because loss of appetite can also be a symptom of depression.
Do This Instead: If your stomach is in knots and you can’t seem to eat, focus on relaxing to melt some of that stress away. Keep a stress ball at your desk, take a minute to step outside, try some breathing exercises, or refocus your energy by giving yourself something to do.
When things look hopeless, it’s often tempting to just stop trying. Whether you’re struggling to achieve something you’ve been working towards or have encountered an unexpected obstacle, throwing in the towel is a common stress response. The sudden rush of relief from no longer needing to work through a problem can make it easy for us to give up. This is also tied to feelings of anxiety.
Stress and anxiety can be good for you in small doses. They are good motivators and help you move forward with things that need to get done (for example taking a test or preparing for an interview). When they start to become overwhelming and cause you to withdraw from people, situations, or tasks more than is healthy, it’s a good time to address these emotions more seriously.
Do This Instead: Instead of throwing in the towel when you feel stressed, ask yourself some questions first. Why did your situation become the way it is? Are your worries realistic or are you blowing the problem out of proportion? Do you have feasible options you’re trying not to take because they look scary or difficult? Being honest with yourself can help you assess your situation better and help you decide if it’s really better to abandon your goal.
What are some ways that you combat stress in your life? Share your approach with us in the comments below! For more ways to care for yourself, read these reminders of why you are worth the self-love. Stay in-the-know and subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly highlights from the LA Fitness blog!