We cope with stress in many different ways and while some methods may appear to give relief they are simply stacking up more problems. Here’s my shortlist of some of the worst stress busters around and the reasons why:
Alcohol is easy to obtain, socially acceptable and gives a quick result in tension reduction. A drink is also symbolic. It’s a way of separating the working day from leisure time. If that glass of wine or beer regularly increases you could end up making your stress worse. A little of what you fancy is fine and may even be beneficial. But the more heavily and regularly people drink alcohol the more they start to depend on it and the more likely their anxiety, depression and other mental health problems are set to increase. Getting drunk is really a form of avoidance and doesn’t deal with the issues that are causing the stress.
Sweet and salty foods can be tempting when people are feeling stressed. Stress increases the amount of cortisol in the body, which in turn switches on our appetite for high calorie foods. Emotional eating is pretty common and nobody would want to deny a person the odd indulgence. Like alcohol, the problems set in when the pattern becomes consistent. Ironically, stress can also cause people to skip meals and this simply increases the problem and the desire to snack. So, don’t skip meals, move the comfort foods out of the way and check yourself before you snack – are you really hungry or are you reacting to stress? A well balanced diet and regular eating habits will help to reduce cravings.
Cigarette smoking is something of an old chestnut when it comes to stress relief. Ask a smoker the reasons they smoke and you’re almost guaranteed to find stress relief on the list. In fact the relief that comes from smoking lies in the fact that it satisfies the addiction. Nicotine actually increases anxiety, so the tensions smokers feel between cigarettes is due to the reduction in the effects of nicotine.It therefore stands to reason that quitting smoking can reduce anxiety.
Anger may be a normal response to frustrating situations but problems begin when it becomes hard to control and is a regular feature. Angry behavior is a sure sign you aren’t coping well with stress. It’s also something of a myth that ventilating anger is good because it gets it out of the system, but this generally involves upsetting other people and even if it doesn’t it is still problematic. Health issues associated with anger are high blood pressure, depression, digestive problems, heart disease and increased risk of colds and other infections. The way to manage anger isn’t to roar, it’s to find ways of identifying the causes and manage it in the short and long term.
Denial is a form of coping that says you’ve lost contact with reality. We all use denial from time to time, as it’s a way to avoid uncomfortable truths or to minimize their effects. In the short term denial can be a way of filtering traumatic issues until we can adapt to them, but long-term denial isn’t helpful. There is an argument that denial is an unconscious mechanism, but we also know that we can choose to be in denial. It’s the “I can’t deal with this right now” way of avoidance that may simply compound problems. Moving beyond denial may take effort, may be uncomfortable and time consuming but whether the issue is work-related, health or relationship based, being stuck in denial means you can never move forward unless the issue is resolved. This means it will continue to grind away in the background and cause endless distress.