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How to Cope with Stress to Stay Healthy

Click-clack. The sound of my frantic typing is not uncommon during busy school nights. My mom peeks into my room, and tells me I need to stop working. “I can’t, I have a paper due tomorrow,” I say. From personal stress to work-related stress, all of this can build up. However, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, chronic stress can have an impact on your immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive health, subsequently leading to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and more.

In addition, it is estimated that work-related stress alone causes 120,000 deaths a year, and workplace stress often impacts our home life. Stressed employees also means lowered productivity, and according to a study on Australian miners, stressed employees costed employers around $45,240.70 in productivity costs.

“Employees who reported experiencing stress at work were 19% less productive than employees who did not report experiencing stress… It has been estimated that psychological distress has an annual economic cost of $153.8 million to the Australian coal mining industry, representing almost 9% of pre-tax operating profit.

Employee Stress, Reduced Productivity, and Interest in a Workplace Health Program: A Case Study from the Australian Mining Industry

Not only are working adults feeling stressed, an increasing number of students are becoming stressed too. Between 2005 and 2017, the rates of major depressive episodes in teens aged 12 to 17 increased by 52%.

Often times, high school students are stressed with academics and future prospects, taking AP classes, standarized tests, and a myraid of extracurriculars in hopes of getting into a good college.

While some may be perplexed by the cutthroat competition of college admissions, college admission rates are dropping over time as more and more students apply for the same top universities. In addition, some parents push their students to pursue academic success, often times negatively impacting their mental health.

In the short story, Two Kinds by Amy Tan, the author describes the struggles of Jing-Mei, the main character, as her overbearing mother expects her to be a child prodigy. With increasing academic pressure, around 31% of students feel overwhelmed by stress.

Social stress is another common stressor among both teens and adults. In a study, researchers found that the main cause of social stress was failure and the feeling of uncontrollability, which leads to decreased self-esteem.

Social stress results from a person’s relationships, and often times, it can be due to feeling the need to fit in. I’ve had my own experience with fitting in. When I was starting middle school, all my friends moved away to different states or different schools, and I didn’t know anyone at my new middle school.

While most students enjoy lunch and break time, I hated it because I never had anyone to sit with, which was awkward, so sometimes I would hide in the bathroom and count down the minutes until break ended. Even though humans are social creatures, sometimes social events can become stressful.

In addition, around 15 million adults in the United States have social anxiety disorder, which is described as having an overwhelming fear of being judged in a social situation or being humiliated. This could have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of people with social anxiety disorder, as talking to strangers, making eye contact, going to parties, or more may become difficult to do.

While life can be stressful, alleviating stress is important for healthy, happier lives. A study from the National Institute for Health and Welfare showed that heavy stress reduced the life expectancy of 30 year old men by 2.8 years.

However, according to Psychology Today, “…How people respond to stressful situations can have a greater impact on health and mortality than total stress exposure on its own… This study also suggests that learning good coping skills and techniques for managing negative emotions can play an essential role in helping people already at risk for premature mortality live longer, more satisfying lives.”

Our coping mechanisms for stress are incredibly important, especially since many of us face stressful situations everyday. Here are some suggestions for what to do regularly to cope with stress!

“…How people respond to stressful situations can have a greater impact on health and mortality than total stress exposure on its own… This study also suggests that learning good coping skills and techniques for managing negative emotions can play an essential role in helping people already at risk for premature mortality live longer, more satisfying lives.”

Romeo Vitelli Ph.D., Psychology Today

1. Go outside

Previously, I rarely went outside since the weather and homework usually prevented me from going out, but recently, I’ve been going on walks everyday after dinner, and it’s made me a lot happier. It has been shown that going outside can lower stress, blood pressure, and heart rate, and even spending 20 minutes outdoors can be beneficial to your health. If you’re lucky enough to live near a park, take advantage of it and go outside, it really does help.

Headspace provides guided meditation exercises!

2. Do something relaxing

When you’re typing a paper and just don’t know what to write, sometimes it’s just time to relax. Relaxing activities such as yoga or meditation can make you happier and help you destress, which will take your mind off of the stressful situation. Apps such as Headspace can help guide meditation exercises for individuals who are beginners at meditation. Other things to do to relax includes doing any fun activities, such as hobbies, or having a “spa day” by drinking your favorite drink, taking a warm bath while reading a novel by the candlelight. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too ideal, but you get the picture.

3. Set goals for what you want to accomplish

Sometimes when you just have to get the project done, it’s helpful to set goals. When I first started taking Coursera courses, I didn’t have a goal for what I wanted to accomplish and when I wanted to finish a course, so I would be pestered by the thought of “maybe I should go work on that soon…” After finishing a couple courses way after the intended end date, I started setting a goal for certain classes. For example, for classes that were estimated to take less than 10 hours to finish, I would finish a week’s worth of quizzes, readings, and videos in a day, which is ambitious, I know, but it’s actually not that bad. Because of this, I’ve finished courses that should’ve taken more than a month in less than a week.

4. Get good quality sleep

Sleep improves concentration, mood, and judgement, so naturally, it’s important to get enough sleep. However, sometimes when it gets hard to sleep, I’ve found that staying away from screens really does help because the blue light from phones, computers, tablets, and more can interfere with your sleep and circadian rhythm, which helps regulate your sleep patterns. According to Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School, “Some studies suggest a link between exposure to light at night, such as working the night shift, to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity,” showing that it is important to try to get a good night’s sleep whenever possible.

“Some studies suggest a link between exposure to light at night, such as working the night shift, to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”

Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School

5. Exercise

It’s commonly known that exercise helps reduce stress, by producing endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that relieve stress and pain. Mayo Clinic states that, “Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. If you’re not an athlete or even if you’re out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management.” Exercising can help improve your health and sleep, subsequently improving your mood and stress levels too. You don’t need fancy equipment or a large area either, sometimes when I’ve been working too much, my mom tells me to go walk around the house a couple of times. Walking up and down the stairs, running in place, or speed-walking around the house are all simple ways to exercise.

“Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. If you’re not an athlete or even if you’re out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management.”

Mayo Clinic

6. Challenge yourself

For people with social anxiety, sometimes the best way to deal with it is to go out there and challenge yourself to face social situations. It can be uncomfortable, but make sure you’re prepared and don’t do something that’s too overwhelming.

You can start with something simple, like making eye contact and smiling at people on the streets, and move up to something more difficult, like attending parties. For me, I’ve been trying to improve my social skills by smiling or greeting the people I meet on my walks, and occasionally making small talk.

A main reason why school became difficult for me wasn’t actually because of the assignments and tests, I thought the acute stress was good motivation for me to work harder, but because of social stress. For a while, I completely gave up on trying to fit in with others, but I realized, sometimes I needed to get out there and socialize, because having friends is important.

A study by Harvard researchers found that having good friendships can promote our brain health, and there are many different studies showing the importance of good friends. Even though social stress may cause us to want to disconnect from our friends and family, it’s important to stay connected to the people that can help.

Bullet journaling is a popular way to destress and get organized!

7. Keep a journal

Journaling is often helpful for expressing your emotions, and as you write down your thoughts on paper, it can help you reflect and think of a solution to your problem. In addition, journaling can also help your physical health. To illustrate, a study published in the American Medical Association journal showed that when patients with chronic illnesses wrote down their thoughts in a journal, they had less symptoms than those who didn’t. It’s incredible that journaling can improve your physical health, so sometimes it’s good to let out your feelings.

8. Wake up earlier

For the people that like to stay up late, this seems crazy. However, since summer began, I’ve enjoyed waking up earlier so I can finish my tasks for the day faster, and it makes me feel accomplished. Finishing something helps me relieve stress, since I don’t have to think about what I should’ve been doing for the entire day. Researchers also found that college students who woke up earlier had more successful careers and made more money, so it’s a good idea to wake up earlier

Studies have shown that dog owners are 24% less likely to die of any cause!

9. Get a pet

Okay, for some people, this isn’t possible because of living situations or job demands. However, studies have shown that owning a pet can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and improve your cardiovascular health. Dog owners also live longer, as they were found to be 24% less likely to die of any cause. While owning a pet definitely has its benefits, it’s a huge time and financial commitment too. Dogs can live over 10 years, so never get a pet if you’re not prepared to take care of it for its entire life.

10. Do something creative

Whether that’s drawing, painting, or baking, doing something creative that you enjoy can be very calming. Occasionally, I like to watch historical documentaries for fun, and dress up in historical fashion and hairstyles. Try a new recipe or paint a painting, and it’ll get your mind off of the problem and help you de-stress.

Sometimes, humans aren’t the greatest at taking action now to prevent situations in the future, but just remember, when you have that 10-page essay due and you’re frantically typing at midnight, your health is the most important thing there is, so take good care of it. Don’t worry, you’ve got this!

Bibliography

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