Stress is a normal bodily reaction to the events of our life. It can occur on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. But it’s very individual.
What triggers stress for one person might be totally different for the next. However, most often, stress is caused by life events.
These could be challenges at work, difficulty in relationships, moving to a new city, or illness and loss. Our level of stress can also rise when things feel out of balance.
“If you feel pretty even balancing your home and work life, but something or someone places more demands on you, throwing you off kilter, you’re likely to feel stressed,” explains Karen Whitehead, clinical social worker in private practice in Alpharetta, Georgia.
“If we think [that] we can handle it or we’ve handled it in the past, then our perceived stress, adrenaline, and cortisol decrease. However, if we’ve had negative experiences in similar situations or we feel [that] we can’t handle the current challenge, stress increases.”
It’s perfectly possible to get a handle on whatever is causing you stress. But, one of the first key steps is acknowledging that you have an issue with stress and understanding your potential triggers.
Aaptiv has yoga and meditation classes that can help mitigate the effects of stress. Try a workout today!
Here, experts share some of the most common culprits of stress in the modern age—and how to cope with it.
The internet and its myriad of social media platforms give us instant access to everything going on in the world. This is true both in our small social spheres and well outside of it.
Whitehead explains that this can create a mindset that we are supposed to know or be able to find out how to do anything and everything. This includes dealing with a difficult or stressful situation.
“We compare our worst day with everyone else’s perfect day on social media. We may find ourselves feeling alone, weak, and simply not good enough. This creates a discrepancy between our own capabilities and what we think we should be able to do, think, or feel,” she says.
“In addition, being bombarded with current events can quickly overload our capacity to process information.”
We obviously need technology to function in today’s world. However, she suggests merely cultivating a level of awareness in regards to how much time we spend online and how it makes us feel.
“If connecting or researching online helps you feel supported and informed that can increase resilience. However, if your time online leaves you feeling inadequate, alone, and overwhelmed, consider other ways to change or shift how you spend your digital time.”
Going hand-in-hand with the internet and social media, your smartphone can be one of the biggest culprits for stress in your life.
“We text relentlessly and react to the immediate sound or vibration of our phones. This leads to a lack of mindfulness of our actual circumstances. It allows us to become troubled and preoccupied by the dramas we create through those communications,” says Steve Taubman, mindfulness expert and author of Buddha in the Trenches.
“When we become slaves to technology, our stress level goes through the roof. We’re constantly on high alert, unthinkingly accepting the demand to pay attention to the phone over our own lives.”
If you’re someone who automatically answers calls and texts as soon as they come in, Taubman suggests trying a deliberate fast.
“When your phone rings, hear it and consciously choose where you want your attention to be,” he says. “It’s OK to ignore the phone and to choose to relax into the moment. At first, this might feel stressful, but ultimately, it’s freeing.”
A Sedentary Lifestyle
Our body is meant to move—and this goes far beyond a simple five minute walk outdoors. Exercise is one of the best ways to increase heart rate and blood circulation throughout the body. It goes a long way in reducing our stress level, as well.
“When we sit around watching TV and ignore the need to be in active, our physical body suffers. The response is stress felt in the form of depression or anxiety,” says Taubman.
“Get in motion, take a walk, fill your lungs with fresh air, break your pattern, and allow your nervous system and endocrine system to function the way [that] they were meant to function.”
Everything in moderation, as they say—even when it comes to exercise. Too much can serve as a stressor to the body, warns Ericka Eller, nutritionist and certified stress management coach.
“You can be perpetuating a prolonged stress response. Your body is not able to recover from intense workouts if you have additional stress in your life,” she says.
“If you suffer from chronic stress, a daily 15-30 minutes is a good place to start. Build from there as your stamina increases.”
Aaptiv has workouts in the 15-30 minute range that will help reduce your stress levels. View them in the app today.
Lack of Sleep
Not getting your seven to nine hours of sleep each night, especially on a consistent basis, is one quick way to feel stressed out.
“When you sleep, your body goes into ‘repair and regenerate’ mode. It builds immunity, digests, synthesizes hormones, and detoxifies your body. It doesn’t need as much energy to keep you awake and function like you do during the day,” explains Eller.
“Without sleep, you also send a signal to your brain and body that you are under distress.”
If you are not eating enough to match your activity, eating too much, or eating a diet high in processed foods that have little nutritional value, you’re putting your body into what Eller refers to as a stress response.
This requires extra effort to create the energy you need to get through your day. “Stress depletes nutrients from normal functions, like energy production, hormone synthesis, digestion, and cell repair,” she explains.
“Not having the appropriate amount of nutrients can further the stress impact on the body. So make sure to include protein, carbohydrates in the form of fiber (whole grains and vegetables), and healthy fats (in moderation) at every meal.”
Not Being Able to Say “No”
Boundaries are important to our overall well-being. When we’re incapable of turning down certain to-dos, be it work-related, or a social obligation, we suffer the majority of the consequences.
In fact, Eller believes this is the most common way people drive themselves to burnout in today’s society. “Busy has become the new black and we tend to wear it like a badge of honor. We make health the lowest priority by doing so,” she says.
“Saying ‘no’ will become one of your most important stress management tools in your tool box of life.”
When we have an expectation of getting something done, but we put it off, we only wind up feeling worse than if we hunkered down and crossed the task off our to-do list.
“If you tend to procrastinate in certain tasks or areas of your life, acknowledge that [it is] an issue for you and get curious about why you might be procrastinating,” says Whitehead.
“Often breaking down a big project into small, attainable tasks can help us get started and feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Stress, as you know, isn’t great for the body. Now is the perfect time to start a mindfulness practice with meditation classes in the Aaptiv app.