woman walking in nature to decrease stress

Stop Normalizing Stress: Stress Management Techniques for Holistic Wellness

The stress in your life might feel completely out of control, like there’s nothing you can do to find balance or get a break. Unfortunately, this is the norm – nearly half of Americans report feeling stressed. Our culture is so focused on productivity and doing, that sometimes we forget about being – being present, as well as being mentally and physically healthy. From demanding careers to jam-packed family schedules to personal responsibilities, many of us are living under constant pressure. Yet, while stress might seem like a normal part of life, its impacts on our body and mind can be dangerous. Ignoring or normalizing stress can lead to a cascade of health issues, both physical and mental, that can undermine our well-being and quality of life. In this blog, we’ll explore why it’s crucial to address stress rather than dismiss it and share some tips on managing stress holistically.

“Stress is a sign that you’ve lost the present moment. The next moment has become more important than life.” – Ekhart Tolle

Signs Stress Has Become Your Norm

Stress isn’t all bad – in small doses, it can motivate you to achieve your goals and do incredible things. However, if stress looms over you constantly on a daily basis, it’s time to address it and apply stress management tools to your life. Here are some signs that you may be experiencing chronic stress:

Constant Fatigue

Feeling tired all the time, even after a full night’s sleep, is a common sign that stress is taking its toll. Chronic stress depletes your energy reserves, leaving you perpetually exhausted.

Frequent Headaches or Muscle Pain

Stress often manifests physically. Regular headaches, tension in your neck and shoulders, or other unexplained aches and pains can be indicators that stress is affecting your body.

Irritability and Mood Swings

When stress becomes chronic, it can lead to heightened emotional reactivity. If you find yourself becoming easily irritated or experiencing frequent mood swings, stress might be the underlying cause.

Difficulty Concentrating

Chronic stress can impair cognitive function, making it hard to focus, make decisions, or remember things. If you’re struggling with concentration or find your productivity dropping, stress might be the culprit.

Changes in Appetite

Stress can disrupt your eating habits, leading to changes in appetite. You might find yourself eating more than usual, often turning to comfort foods, or losing your appetite entirely.

Sleep Problems

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep are all signs that stress is interfering with your rest. Chronic stress can lead to insomnia, making it hard to recharge properly.

Increased Illness

Stress weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, infections, and other illnesses. If you find yourself getting sick more often than usual, stress might be to blame.

Isolation and Withdrawal

When overwhelmed by stress, some people withdraw from social activities and isolate themselves. If you find yourself avoiding friends and family or losing interest in hobbies you once enjoyed, stress could be the reason.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Turning to alcohol, drugs, smoking, or overeating as a way to cope with stress is a sign that it has become a serious issue. These behaviors can provide temporary relief but often lead to more significant problems.

Negative Thinking

A constant feeling of dread, excessive worry, or pervasive negative thoughts can indicate that stress is affecting your mental health. Chronic stress can lead to anxiety and depression if left unaddressed.

The Dangers of Chronic Stress Left Unchecked

Over time, constant stress doesn’t just manifest itself as the symptoms above, but can cause lasting mental and physical health issues. Chronic stress is a significant risk factor for mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. The constant pressure and emotional strain can alter brain chemistry and contribute to the development or exacerbation of these conditions. Stress impairs cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and decision-making. Long-term stress can even lead to structural changes in the brain, particularly in areas associated with learning and memory, potentially accelerating cognitive decline and increasing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Physically, chronic stress can contribute to the development of cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, digestive issues, a weakened immune system, weight gain, reproductive problems, and sleep issues. The tension stress causes in the muscles can lead to lasting pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. 

A Holistic Approach to Stress Management

The holistic wellness approach works by creating a balanced and integrated plan that addresses all aspects of an individual’s life. By focusing on the interconnectedness of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, this approach helps individuals build resilience and develop healthy habits that prevent and manage stress. It emphasizes proactive and preventative measures, empowering individuals to take control of their health and well-being through sustainable lifestyle changes.

“Our conversation about mental health is missing two key components – one is the health of the physical body and the other is spirituality.” – Dr. Ellen Vora

Address Physical Imbalances

An integrative approach to holistic mental wellness includes supporting physical health. Nutrition is a major factor in the way we feel. Poor nutrition is proven to increase mental health issues like depression, increase inflammation in the body, and impact mood and energy levels. When you’re stressed, it may seem like the easiest option to grab fast food or a processed, packaged snack. However, these foods contain high levels of sugar that can cause you to crash later. The sodium content can spike your blood pressure, causing headaches, dizziness, or nervousness. To combat this, focus on a balanced diet and reduce your intake of processed foods. Prepare whole foods in advance so they are ready for you when hunger strikes. Take the time to mindfully enjoy and be present with your food. This will improve digestion, help your brain understand when your body is full, and support nutrient absorption.

Lack of movement or exercise in your life also increases your chances of being stressed. Exercise helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol, improves sleep patterns, and allows for the release of mood-improving endorphins. We all know exercise is good for us, but the rigid idea of what exercise is may be holding us back from taking part. Exercise is not limited to running a marathon or deadlifting weights in a gym – it is more joyful when done in ways we enjoy. Try a daily 10-minute walk with your dog, dance freely to your favorite music, stretch your body throughout the day, or tune into a yoga video. 

Deepen Your Mind-Body Connection

Developing a strong mind-body connection involves integrating practices that enhance awareness of the body’s signals, emotions, and thoughts. This connection helps reduce stress by promoting relaxation, improving emotional regulation, and fostering a sense of inner calm. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathwork, journaling, and mindful eating are each paths to deepening your mind-body connection. Dr. Eva Selhub, MD provides additional mindfulness activities for stress here.

Set Limits Around Work

Setting limits around work is crucial for managing stress and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. By establishing clear boundaries, such as defining specific work hours and sticking to them, you can prevent work from encroaching on personal time. It’s important to communicate these boundaries to colleagues and supervisors to manage expectations effectively. Taking regular breaks throughout the workday, avoiding work-related tasks during personal time, and disconnecting from work emails and calls after hours are essential practices. These limits help you recharge, maintain productivity, and reduce the risk of burnout.

Spend Time Outdoors

Nature is described as medicine by many holistic therapists and doctors, including Dr. Vora, for good reason. The benefits of green spaces on mental and physical health are well-researched – living near parks and green spaces is associated with reduced mental distress, increased physical activity, and longer life spans. Exposure to nature can lower the risk of death from chronic diseases. Additionally, people who exercise outdoors in natural environments tend to work out for longer durations and at higher intensities.

Find Community

“No matter how hard things are in your life, feeling heard, seen, and witnessed makes everything easier,” says holistic psychiatrist Ellen Vora, MD. Connecting with a supportive community can be a powerful antidote to stress, offering emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of belonging. woman kayaking with a group to build community

Unsure of where to turn to find community? Consider an interest group. Engaging in activities you enjoy is a great way to meet people with similar interests. Whether it’s a book club, hiking meetup, recreational sports team, gardening group, or art class, participating in these activities can help you form meaningful connections. Shared hobbies provide common ground and opportunities for regular interaction, fostering lasting relationships. Plus, there’s the added benefit of making time for an activity you love or you find relaxing.

If you’re dealing with specific challenges such as stress, anxiety, or a particular life situation, support groups can be incredibly helpful. These groups, whether in person or online, provide a safe space to share experiences and gain insights from others who understand what you’re going through. Feeling heard and understood by people who have similar experiences can be very comforting.

For many, spiritual or religious communities offer profound support. Whether you attend a place of worship, join a meditation group, or participate in spiritual retreats, these communities often provide a strong support network and a shared sense of purpose.

Consider Holistic Therapy

In the quest for managing stress and achieving holistic wellness, holistic therapy offers an integrative approach that addresses the mind, body, and spirit. Unlike traditional therapies that may focus solely on mental health, holistic therapy combines various techniques to foster overall well-being. Contact our team at Awakened Path to learn more.

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