Toxic stress is a very real issue in modern life. Essentially, for some individuals, stress can be so chronic and extreme that their bodies can’t cope with the adrenaline and cortisol surges, and they face the tangible possibility of damage to internal organs such as the heart and lungs. Even the immune system can be compromised by this kind of excessive, unrelenting stress.
Signs of Toxic Stress
What are the indicators of this level of stress? They are numerous and can suggest depression or other conditions. A few of these indicators are:
- Irritability. Finding you snap at family members, co-workers, and colleagues.
- Inability to concentrate. Finding that you can’t focus the way you once did, or you keep losing your place in a task.
- Dread. Dreading going home or to work.
- Panic. Panic attacks may be a sign of extreme stress, and can lead to physical damage.
- Overactive mind when you’re trying to sleep. Do you find your thoughts racing in the middle of the night?
- Physical symptoms including muscle tension, headache, or upset stomach. These are common indicators of excess and unrelenting tension and stress. Other symptoms include high blood pressure.
Some Stress Is Good For You
Of course, stress is not always a bad thing. Feeling some pressure is often entirely valid. If you need to prepare for an exam, pressure can be helpful. If you’re playing cards with friends, feeling competitive can be stressful, but it won’t harm you, and adds to the excitement and fun of the game. Where stress become harmful and dangerous is the point at which it is extreme and never lets up. If your job leaves you a wreck by the end of the day, that is far too much stress.
Managing And Reducing Stress
Even if your levels of stress are not extreme, it is wise to manage and reduce your stress before it does become a health issue. Here are a few tips for cutting back on stress and its impact:
This may be the most important aspect of dealing with stress. Get out and move. Walk, run, bike, work out in a gym. Exercise may burn off the energy and hormones that let the stress persist.
Meditation can be a powerful tool in managing toxic stress. A “grounding meditation” may be particularly helpful.
Stress can lead to overeating or eating the wrong kinds of foods. Arranging your diet so that you take in foods that are good for you may be a solid first step toward managing the toxic stress, or just reducing your overall stress level before it becomes a hazard.
This doesn’t mean adding more social media to your life — that can be a stressor all by itself. Instead, get out with friends and family. Go to dinner. Schedule events that let you connect with the people you are close to. Stress, especially work stress, can lead us to believe we need to cut out our friends and family members in order to keep up with work. If you can’t connect with friends and family right now, perhaps due to distance or their own schedules, find groups you can join. If you have a hobby, anything from gardening to flying remote-controlled aircraft, you will find a support group for that activity.
Getting proper rest is vital to managing stress. The truism that things look better in the morning has a foundation in reality. Ensure that you are giving yourself room for eight hours of sleep. Set an alarm in early evening reminding you to repair for bed. You may find it difficult at first to sleep, as you will worry about the various things that have been causing stress. But once you have implemented a plan to combat it through social activities, a proper diet, and exercise, you will find you are better able to sleep.
Seeking Treatment For Toxic Stress
Your doctor or functional medicine practitioner’s office is the first place to seek help if you believe your stress levels are becoming a problem. He or she can make recommendations for managing your stress. A functional medicine practitioner, in particular, will look at all aspects of your life, from work to diet to exercise, that may be contributing to stress. Stress can be managed and brought under control through lifestyle changes.