How to Manage Your Stress by Monitoring Your Body’s Reaction to It
Are you stressed out? There’s a good chance you’re not certain, since Americans live in a constant state of stress. From overscheduling ourselves to hectic commutes and unhealthy habits such as smoking, there’s plenty to be stressed about. One way to check your stress levels and find out if you need to take immediate action (even if that action is rest!) is to monitor your body’s reaction to various stressors.
When’s the last time you checked your blood pressure? It likely hasn’t been since your last doctor appointment, but blood pressure is a fantastic means of measuring stress. You likely know what your own natural healthy BP levels are, and if you don’t then know that anything above 120/80 is inching into the danger zone. You can gauge your systolic blood pressure (the upper, higher number) simply by taking stock of heart beats per minute.
Another way to monitor stress is by keeping tabs on your resting heart rate. Ideally, this is taken as soon as you wake up and before you get out of bed. This number should hover between 60 and 100. For comparison, elite athletes may have resting heart rates of around 40. If you have a high resting heart rate, that may be a sign that intervention is necessary, whether it’s changing your diet or adding an exercise regimen.
Notice how you react when faced with a stressful situation. The next time you’re running late for a meeting or unexpectedly have a pile of work dumped on you, what’s your go-to reaction? Do you reach for a cigarette, binge eat, or practice negative self-talk? Everyone has developed their own ways to deal with stressful situations, and they’re rarely healthy.
It might feel counterintuitive at the time, but start considering alternatives to unhealthy reactions. It might be triaging what needs to be done first by writing it down. Taking deep breaths and a brisk five-minute walk can help to settle your mind and minimize the release of stress hormones. Learning to say no when applicable can be a great stress reducer.
Our bodies are curious and very adaptable—no two people react to stress in the same way. Chronic stress can lead to chronic conditions, including diagnosable anxiety or even tics and spasms. Over time, stress can shift the blood pressure to a naturally higher state. Negative reactions, such as binge eating, can lead to obesity, diabetes, and joint inflammation.
Understanding how our bodies work and react to stress is the best tool to combat it. What works for one person may not work for another. For instance, breathing exercise options (when not done correctly) can actually increase stress. Not everyone is going to enjoy a five-minute walk when they’re worried about all the work waiting for them back in the office. Trying out various options for positive stress relief is the only way to gauge what works for you.
However, no matter which strategy you employ, everyone can benefit from positive cognitive reconditioning. Avoid talking negatively to yourself and instead be your own cheerleader.