Vail health: A ‘less stressed’ lifestyle
Ryan Summerlin December 17, 2012
If people didn’t experience stress, there would be no reason to take a vacation, and Vail as we know it might not even exist. Financial struggles, relationships issues, or simply being late can all lead to that “stressed out” feeling many are familiar with. Leading a completely stress-free life sounds ideal, but in reality a little bit of stress can be a good thing.
“Without stress, life would be pretty boring,” said Meredith Van Ness, licensed clinical social worker at Samaritan Counseling Center of the Rockies in Edwards. “Stress is a normal reaction to the increasing demands of everyday life. A certain amount of stress is healthy for everyone.”
According to Van Ness, dealing with stress isn’t about trying to eliminate it entirely. A better approach is to seek out healthy ways to cope with your stressors. Van Ness said the first step in handling stress is acknowledging how high your stress levels actually are.
“You have to identify that you’re stressed out and don’t like feeling that way,” Van Ness said. “Stress management is the realization that you have some ability in how you control that stress.”
Van Ness said there are typically two types of stress: acute and chronic. Acute, or short-term stress is temporary, such as being stressed over an issue at work and then feeling more relaxed once the issue is resolved. Chronic stress can be the result of an ongoing health or relationship issue, or it can occur when someone is going through major life changes. Van Ness said it’s important to distinguish between stress and anxiety, which are often linked together.
“Stress will go away,” Van Ness said. “Anxiety is a constant worry that things will not be okay. There is no significant source of the stress. (People with anxiety) worry about anything and everything.”
Deciding to change
Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety, stress can have a detrimental impact on your health. According to the Mayo Clinic, our bodies are designed with a self-regulating stress-response system. When we feel threatened, a surge of hormones are released, including adrenaline and cortisol, which raise your heart rate, increase blood pressure and elevate energy supplies. When we experience constant stress, our stress-response system stays activated, which could ultimately lead to serious health concerns such as heart disease, sleep problems, digestive issues, depression and obesity.
Van Ness thinks one of the best ways to combat stress is to lead a healthier and more active lifestyle.
“Exercise is very important,” Van Ness said. “There are studies which show that people who are stressed, anxious, or depressed feel better more quickly (when they starting exercising) than people who don’t. It doesn’t have to be really extreme. It could be just going for a walk for 20 minutes.”
Van Ness suggests focusing on making small changes such as getting enough sleep, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine and eating healthy foods. Although adopting these changes sounds easy, Van Ness said for many people it’s the hardest part.
“No one likes to create change,” Van Ness said. “It’s easier to do what you’ve always done. (People have to) decide that they are going to make changes. They’re going to exercise, eat healthy, put limits on how much they’re going to do for other people, and (help) themselves to feel better.”
On the flip side, dealing with stress in unhealthy ways can lead to even more emotional issues in the long run. Don Bissett, a licensed professional counselor who practices in Edwards, said people often learn to handle stress through harmful means at a young age. A child who sees a parent or family member using drugs or alcohol to assuage their worries might adopt this same type of behavior later in life.
“If we learned that the way to deal with stress is to go have a drink, then that will be our behavior too,” Bissett said. “We often use what we’ve learned to deal with stress, and often times we haven’t learned things that are helpful. (Instead) we have to employ other things to deal with stress that may not come naturally. Those can be things like meditation or breathing exercises.”
Bissett said our support systems can have a big impact on how we manage stress and stressful situations.
“If you’re with a supportive person who loves you, your stress is likely to be lower,” Bissett said. “If you’re with a person where the relationship is challenging for whatever reason, your stress is likely to be higher.”
Bissett said even single people who aren’t romantically involved can still have a strong support system made up of family and friends, or experience stress due to other types of toxic relationships.
If relationships, or lack thereof, are the cause of your stress, Bissett recommends making an effort to reach out to others and “show some love,” he said.
“Cuddle with a pet, snuggle with a partner, give an unexpected hug to a friend or family member, or have a heartfelt talk with a friend,” Bissett said. “(Showing affection) demonstrates a physical response in us, (that) research shows releases endorphins in our system that contribute to our sense of well-being.”
When to seek help
Both Bissett and Van Ness said it can be hard to know when someone is merely stressed out, or if feeling stressed is a symptom of a more serious problem like anxiety or depression.
“There’s a distinction between when people can get better themselves and when they should possibly seek a therapist or a counselor,” Van Ness said. “If (someone) can’t solve things on their own – maybe they’ve tried – they need someone to prioritize what works for them.”
Creating a stress-free, or rather a “less-stressed” lifestyle is possible if you’re willing to trade in those harmful habits for healthier stress-reducing methods.
“I think anyone who decides they want to become less stressed has the ability to become less stressed,” Van Ness said.
Stress, like many of life’s daily annoyances, may never fully vanish like we sometimes wish it would. But maybe by making an effort to monitor our stressors and relax more, we can look forward to having more less-stressed days in the future. –