Despite what self-appointed zen gurus out there would like you to believe, you'll never be able to "beat stress" completely — and honestly, who would want to? A life completely free of stress would mean a life without deadlines for projects you care about. It would also mean no more packed social calendar.
The point is: Forget everything you think you know about "de-stressing." This article is not going to tell you to take a step back, say no to things, not overload yourself, or "just stop worrying" about any stressful thing you simply cannot control. Sometimes those steps are necessary, yes, but those are things you know how to do. What we are going to do here, instead, is to go over how to actually manage your stress so that it doesn't take over your life or wreck your health.
Why should you care? Not to stress you out or anything (heh), but the mind and body effects of too much stress are very real. Chronic stress has been linked to the developments of a myriad of health issues, from minor stomach upset to substance abuse issues
, depression, and cardiovascular disease
Even though we often talk about the word "stress" like it's an external, uncontrollable force, it's helpful to think about stress as more of a biological state. The true definition of stress is simply "the brain's response to any demand," per the National Institute of Mental Health
. Often this demand is some kind of change, whether that's a negative one (like the death of a loved one) or a positive one (like starting a new job). But it can also be daily triggers (like your morning commute) or extreme stressors, like living through a violent or traumatic experience.
For every stressful demand, big or small, your brain initiates a complicated chain reaction. The short story is, it starts with a distress signal from your brain that tells your body to pump out hormones like adrenaline and cortisol
. These hormones speed your heart rate, open your lungs, and sharpen your senses when you're stressed. It's a response designed to help you deal with threats, and it's supposed to calm down once the threat has passed. But if you can't (or don't) give your body the help it needs to relax, being on alert all the time can eventually start to take a toll on your body.
Because your life will always be demanding (and changing), the real keys to managing your stress depend on your ability to ride the stress wave, not stop it or slow it down. Thankfully, scientists take this seriously. Here, we'll be collecting the best science-backed strategies to roll with it.