Why Trying to Eliminate All Stress Backfires (And What to Do Instead)

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Twenty Simple Stress-Busting Tips MU

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a wellness guru encouraging you to “eliminate stress” and thought, yeah, right! How am I supposed to ditch all this stress when I wake up already feeling frazzled?

We all have stress in our day-to-day lives. Maybe it’s due to your job, family duties, money problems, or a tangled combination of issues. The point is that some stress is unavoidable – it comes with being human. And trying to escape from it entirely not only seems straight-up impossible but can backfire.

This is because our minds are wired to react to some stress. Trying obsessively to erase it all creates a cycle of frustration and anxiety when it inevitably arises. Research shows this perfectionistic thinking fuels disappointment and self-criticism. Constantly pursuing zero stress amplifies anxiety and sadness when you hit obstacles (Source, NCBI.NLM.NIH). Funny enough, the intense drive for a stress-free existence becomes its own major stressor! It’s reminiscent of a never-ending spiral.

The key is accepting that some stress is normal and not entirely detrimental. In fact, in moderate amounts, stress can serve as an internal alarm system, signaling areas in your life that need attention. However, when that alarm is blaring 24/7, it’s a clear indication that shifting your focus is essential. Rather than striving for an unattainable state of zero stress, managing your reactions and minimizing the physical impacts is much more effective. Believe it or not, along with some minor lifestyle changes, self-compassion is key. Being kind to yourself builds resilience to handle challenges (Source, NCBI.NLM.NIH).

Start by taking just 5-10 minutes each day to stop, breathe deeply, and let your mind wander freely. Doing this consistently can have seriously powerful effects on reducing your stress levels. It’s about giving yourself permission to hit the pause button, even for a short while, amid the chaos. Over time, you’ll notice physiological changes such as lower cortisol levels, better sleep, reduced blood pressure, stronger immunity, and enhanced wellness.

By making this simple yet important practice a priority in your daily routine, you’ll not only cultivate a sense of inner calm amidst the busyness but also develop a powerful coping mechanism that can positively influence your mental, emotional, and physical well-being over time.

How Does Stress Impact the Body?  

So now that we’ve established that stress isn’t going anywhere let’s talk about how it can actually affect your body when it’s chronic. Stress is a normal physical response, but too much of it can mess with your health in some less-than-pleasant ways.

For one, ongoing stress can cause your blood pressure to spike. That’s because stress makes your heart beat faster and increases blood flow so you can deal with perceived threats. Occasional surges are no biggie, but high blood pressure that stays elevated can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke over time.

Stress also triggers your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, aka the notorious “stress hormone.” Cortisol helps rev up your body’s energy stores to handle pressure. But an excessive amount keeps your body in nonstop fight-or-flight mode, which wears you down. Over time, those elevated levels can lead to anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, and a host of other problems.

Another downside is stress eating and weight gain. When you’re stressed, it’s common to crave foods high in salt, sugar, or saturated fats as a quick fix. Since chronic stress increases appetite and cravings for these types of foods, too much of this stress-induced eating leads to unhealthy weight gain over time. Stress also disrupts sleep, affecting appetite-regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin. More stress equals less sleep, which in turn results in more cravings for unhealthy foods. What a vicious cycle to break!

Lastly, it’s important to note that research shows that stress takes a toll on your immune system. When stress hormones are elevated, your body’s natural defense mechanisms are suppressed in an effort to conserve energy for perceived threats, even when they’re not present. This leaves you more susceptible to common illnesses like colds, the flu, and other infections, especially when stress is a constant in your life (Source, American Psychological Association. (2022, October 31)).

The takeaway: Unmanaged chronic stress can significantly impact both your mental and physical well-being. However, by incorporating small stress-relief techniques into your daily routine, you can mitigate its effects and regain a sense of balance and vitality. I’ll share my favorite stress-busting tips later in this post!

Where Is Stress Stored in The Body?

Well, it’s not like there’s a little stress vault hiding out somewhere inside you! Stress is more like an uninvited guest that barges into various parts of your body and starts wreaking havoc.

Imagine this: when you’re stuck in the never-ending chaos of chronic stress, your body hits the panic button. It sets off a whole chain reaction like your brain sending out SOS signals to your hormones, muscles, digestion, immune system—you name it! It’s as if your entire system is on high alert, and it can leave you feeling totally zapped and frazzled.

Now, here’s the thing: sometimes, all this stress can manifest as physical pain in areas like your lower back or shoulders. Dr. John Sarno called this Tension Myoneural Syndrome (TMS), where emotional stressors lead to physical symptoms. It’s like your body’s way of saying, “Hey, pay attention to what’s going on inside!”

But here’s the good news: while you can’t exactly evict stress from your body like you would with an annoying houseguest, you can definitely take steps to show it the door or at least keep it in check. It’s like giving your whole system a much-needed breather, a chance to hit the reset button when things start feeling overwhelming. You’re basically recharging your internal battery, giving yourself a well-deserved energy boost!

How Does Stress Affect the Brain?

Stress not only exacerbates symptoms of mental health conditions like depression or anxiety but also clouds the mind with perpetual worry. When stress becomes a constant companion, it’s easy for positive emotions to be overshadowed by persistent feelings of sadness and anxiety.

Moreover, stress can interfere with vital cognitive functions such as memory, focus, and decision-making. When your mind is overwhelmed, clarity becomes elusive, making it challenging to think clearly or stay productive. You may find yourself feeling scattered and forgetful, unable to concentrate on tasks at hand (Source: PsychCentral).

In essence, unmanaged stress leads to negative thought patterns and what some might call a “muffin brain.” Prioritizing stress management is crucial for maintaining mental clarity and emotional well-being.

Now, you might wonder, isn’t anxiety the same thing as stress?

While stress and anxiety share similarities, they’re not identical twins. Stress typically arises as a response to external pressures like work, family, or finances, whereas anxiety often originates from internal worries or fears within your mind.

Stress can ebb and flow with changing situations, whereas anxiety tends to persist as an ongoing sense of dread or unease. However, chronic stress can certainly heighten feelings of anxiety, creating a detrimental cycle where each feeds off the other.

The key lies in addressing the root causes: stress involves managing or removing external burdens, while anxiety entails targeting internal mental patterns. Nonetheless, reducing stress plays a pivotal role in keeping anxiety in check.

Can Extreme Stress Actually Kill You?

Here’s the truth: Long-term, unchecked stress can contribute to potentially life-threatening health conditions like heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, mental health struggles, and more. That’s because of the physiological toll I mentioned earlier—from elevated cortisol and blood pressure to inflammation and suppressed immunity.

These changes raise risks for various illnesses that can be fatal if not properly managed. So, in that way, chronic stress creates pathways that can indirectly lead to death over time by enabling these diseases to take hold.

On the bright side, you can dramatically decrease those risks by learning to manage stress effectively with healthy coping strategies. It’s all about balance—counteracting the negative effects of stress when you can with recovery, relaxation, and self-care. Your well-being is truly in your hands!

How Can You Reduce Stress?

So far,we’ve covered a lot about the sneaky ways stress can sabotage your body and mind. But what can you actually do about it? How can you actively reduce stress levels and protect your health? I’m so glad you asked!

The first critical step is identifying your personal stress triggers. Throughout the day, check in with yourself – how’s your mood? What’s got you feeling stressed or tense right now? Make notes about causes, related thoughts, and emotions. Use my worksheets if helpful!

Once you know your stress hot spots, you can develop a battle plan. Set realistic expectations, ask for help with tasks, and learn to say no to non-essentials. List all commitments, evaluate priorities, and cut unnecessary obligations. Be strategic to prevent stress overload!

Okay, now for the fun part – real-life, simple ways to beat daily stress in its tracks. We’re talking quick tips you can use even when you’re crunched for time.

  • Take some deep, calming breaths. Try techniques like ocean breathing (Ujjayi Pranayama) or 4-7-8 breathing.
  • Play soothing music that makes you chill out. Nature sounds or classical works great.
  • Step outside for a 5-minute walk to refresh.
  • Give yourself a hand massage when tension strikes.
  • Slowly count backward from 100 to refocus when stress hits.
  • List things you’re grateful for to cultivate positivity.
  • Help someone out for a dose of “Helper’s High” – triggering happy chemicals in your brain!
  • Do a quick workout to relieve pent-up stress energy.
  • Jot thoughts and feelings in a journal to process them.
  • Practice mindfulness by tuning into the present moment.

There are so many more excellent options – 10 minutes of yoga, two minutes of stretching, petting animals, meditating, talking to a friend, or sipping green tea. Don’t underestimate the power of small stress-busting actions done consistently. They really pay off!

Prioritize Yourself

Stress isn’t just a vague notion – it physically manifests and directly impacts your overall health! From blood pressure and cortisol levels to immunity, sleep disruptions, and mental wellness, chronic stress takes a toll on your entire system.

But here’s the awesome part…

You have the power to fight back! By incorporating small, consistent stress-busting practices into your daily routine, you can transform your mindset and minimize the effects of stress over time at a fundamental physiological level. Seriously, don’t underestimate the simple stuff – whether it’s taking deep breaths, moving your body, or immersing yourself in nature – it all adds up!

Make self-care and seeking support a top priority in this battle against stress. You’ve got an arsenal of relaxation tips at your disposal – now it’s time to put them into action. Stress may want to stick around, but with a little effort, you can kick it to the curb. Don’t doubt your capabilities – you’ve got this!

And remember, if you ever need fresh ideas, I’ve got your back! Sign up for the Soulful Self-Care weekly newsletter to receive free downloadable templates and stress-slaying secrets directly in your inbox.

Now, go out there and conquer stress, little by little, day by day. You CAN overcome this! Keep practicing those relaxation rituals, and soon enough, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.

Until next time, take good care of yourself because you deserve to feel absolutely fabulous!

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Twenty Simple Stress Busting Tips

Twenty Simple Stress-Busting Tips MU