You probably know that too much stress is bad for you. But, if your doctor has told you to decrease the amount of stress in your life for the sake of your health, you might have a lot of questions: What does de-stressing even mean? How do you do it? What do you do if stress is just a part of your job, or you're the kind of person who stresses over everything?
"Stress can cause negative physical and emotional symptoms," Dr. Stubits says, adding that your doctor might be worried that stress could exacerbate or even cause mental health issues like anxiety or irritability, or even physical problems like insomnia.
That's not to say that all stress is bad — short bouts of stress can help you focus and get things done.
"You need a certain amount of stress in order to feel alert, motivated, face challenges, and solve problems," Dr. Stubits says. "But, when you’re under too much stress and you’re not coping with it appropriately, that's when it's bad for you."
If your doctor has told you to decrease the amount of stress in your life, Dr. Stubits says it's worth asking them to specify if there's a particular reason they're telling you to do so, or if they have any suggestions for how you can de-stress.
You need to do a mental inventory of what’s going on in your life that might be causing you stress.
Eva Stubits, PhD
"It would help to have a conversation with your doctor about where the stress might be occurring in your life or maybe some of the precursors of the stress," she says.
Other than that, Dr. Stubits suggests trying to identify what it is in your life that's giving you stress in the first place.
"First of all, you need to do a mental inventory of what’s going on in your life that might be causing you stress," she says. "Are you putting in too many hours at work? Are you having a hard time asking for help? Do you have difficulty saying no? Or, are you the kind of person who puts stress on themselves by how they think about things?"
If it's the latter, don't worry, you're not alone. Dr. Stubits says you might start by working out those negative patterns of thoughts, whether you're prone to honing in and focusing only on the worst part of a situation, or you're likely to tell yourself that something bad will happen even when it's unlikely. Once you get to figuring out what she calls your "cognitive traps," she says it'll become easier to relieve some of the stress you feel.
"Meditation for 15 minutes a day is really helpful, because what happens is that you get into what’s called the relaxation response state, which can lower the tendency of your sympathetic nervous system to be more reactive to stress," she says.
If you're not a huge fan of meditating, don't worry. Dr. Stubits says that you can get to that relaxation state in other ways, like guided relaxation apps or breathing exercises. And, if your stress continues consistently for more than a couple of weeks, it could be something that a mental health professional can help you sort out.
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