December 8, 2023

Thrive Under Pressure: How to Proactively Manage Stress

by SHIFT Team

Stress is proliferating at an alarming rate. In fact, 55% of people experience stress during their daily lives in the U.S. alone. While stress has the propensity to affect nearly every aspect of life, leading to physical, emotional, and mental tension, it can result in more dire consequences.

In our previous blog, “Learning to Metabolize Stress,” we illustrated how neglecting the management of anxiety can pave the way for mental health challenges and ailments, such as diabetes and hypertension.

Thankfully, evidence suggests that stress management options and coping strategies for anxiety not only enhance your quality of life but also fortify your overall well-being. Read on to discover how to combat your stress at work by practicing mindful stress relief techniques.

The Impact of Stress on Your Well-Being

As stress enters your life, it activates the body’s fight-or-flight response, unleashing a surge of adrenaline. This physiological reaction heightens your heart and breathing rates, induces muscle tension, and creates an upswing in blood pressure.

It’s important to point out that dealing with stress at work is significantly different than being confronted with threats ingrained in human evolution. Unlike fleeing from a predator, stressors in the workplace can’t be fought or fled in the same way. This conundrum has led to a rise in chronic stress that the human body and mind have yet to resolve.

In Chicago, 19% of people report experiencing high levels of stress, with the majority pointing to work anxiety. Meanwhile, workplace burnout leads nearly three in 10 workers to miss at least one day of work in Chicago.

The long-term activation of the stress response and the release of cortisol affects all  biological processes. This reaction can cause physical issues, including an increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular issues, and sexual dysfunction.

Stress can also negatively affect your mental health. This is possible because chronic stress induces changes at the molecular level that lead to neuroinflammation and the development of depression.

Differentiating The 3 Types of Stress: Your Path to Achieving Goals

There are three types of stress:

  1. Toxic Stress: Often results from enduring abuse or managing persistent illnesses and tends to be chronic in nature.
  2. Tolerable Stress: Emerges during challenging periods like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship but typically dissipates once the situation resolves.
  3. Positive Stress: Occurs during milestones like buying a new home or starting a new job, which is an essential part of normal development.

Toxic Stress and Goal Blockage

Toxic stress can reduce your ability to function at your best. This affects your personal and professional life, making workplace burnout more likely. Preventing burnout at work requires finding ways to deal proactively with this level of stress.

Tolerable Stress As a Motivator

Tolerable stress, in contrast, requires that you make changes and adapt, initiating a personal transformation that motivates you to achieve a specific goal.

Harnessing Positive Stress

Also called eustress, positive stress acts as a catalyst for heightened cognitive function, stimulating the release of neurotrophins and reinforcing neuronal connections in the brain. It can also help improve your memory.

Positive stress can make you more resilient and boost motivation. Learning how to manage a difficult situation builds your capacity to address future stressors more easily.

Strategies to Convert Stress Into Goal Achievement

For those in high-stress careers, it’s important to set goals and prioritize what you want to achieve. Finding a work-life balance allows you to avoid the kind of chronic stress that causes significant harm. Mindfulness is also an incredibly powerful tool that helps you focus on the present instead of looking ahead to an uncertain future, which tends to make stress worse, especially in professional and work settings.

Everyday Strategies for Stress and Anxiety Management

Breathing exercises for anxiety are an excellent method to manage stress. By taking the time to breathe deeply and slowly you can alleviate stress symptoms. This is a technique that you can apply at any time of the day.

You’ll also want to learn some relaxation techniques for anxiety. Cultivating relaxation techniques aids in coping with stress by directly addressing its physical symptoms, teaching the body to release tension, regulate breathing, and lower heart rate. One example of a relaxation technique is meditation, or the practice of focusing the mind on a particular object or thought, to train awareness and to achieve mental clarity.

Regular exercise should be a priority for positive mental health. Exercise for mental health can include joining a gym, starting an exercise routine at home, or simply going outside. Your diet also plays a role in how you handle anxiety and stress. Eating foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt can increase your cortisol level, making your anxiety and stress worse. Instead, focus on getting vegetables, fruits, proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats at each meal.

The role of sleep in stress management cannot be overstated. Inadequate sleep increases cortisol levels, so developing healthy sleeping habits for stress management is essential. Consider maintaining a consistent sleeping schedule and avoiding the use of electronics right before bed.

High-Impact Practices for Immediate Stress Reduction

Breathing exercises are the best option for reducing stress quickly because they create physiological changes that slow down your heart rate, allowing you to feel more in control. Another example of a high-impact stress reducer is going for a walk. Exposure to the outdoors and physical activity enhances oxygen and blood flow to the brain, catalyzing the release of serotonin and endorphins.

Long-Term Coping Mechanisms

For long-term anxiety relief, consider making significant changes to your lifestyle, including your diet, exercise, and sleep habits. Consistent and long-term habit changes can lead to significant stress reduction over time. Start by introducing nutrient-dense food options into your diet and cultivating daily physical activity to initiate transformative results.

There are also Chicago, Illinois mental health resources you can turn to if you feel overwhelmed, including local support groups and anxiety counseling. This level of treatment can be useful especially if you’re dealing with a stressor like the death of a loved one or a chronic illness.

Stress therapy and stress meditation are also helpful long-term coping mechanisms. These options teach you how to relax your body and mind and stay in the present using mindfulness techniques.

The Link Between Stress Management and Immune Health

When you experience chronic stress, the fight-or-flight process releases cortisol. This builds up in your blood and causes inflammation, which makes it more difficult for your immune system to fight off bacteria and other invaders.

Effectively managing stress levels combats inflammation directly and enables your immune system to function at an optimal level.

Stress Management in Chicago, Illinois: Getting the Help You Need

There’s no question that elevated levels of stress and anxiety can and will have a profound negative effect on your mental and physical health. For professionals who are in stressful roles, it’s critical to take your health seriously and to make your overall well-being a priority.

By incorporating stress management techniques, like breathing exercises and lifestyle modifications, such as getting more sleep and eating healthier foods, you can start taking control of how you respond to stress. Empower yourself and consult with a Chicago-based concierge wellness team of physicians, registered dietitians, fitness coaches, and physical therapists to make positive, lasting changes in your health and in your life.

Want to gain deeper insights and learn stress management approaches from a concierge doctor in the Chicagoland area?

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