It shouldn't be surprising to anyone that stress is one of the most common emotions out there. A study from 2017 found that an estimated 8.3 million American adults (about 3.4 percent of the US population) suffer from serious psychological distress — more than ever before. This statistic is likely to get even larger, especially considering the political state of not just America, but the world as a whole. One of the best ways to beat stress is to acknowledge it, and do what you can to relax yourself — aka, practice self-care. But even if your self-care regimen is top notch, there are some things you should know about stress.
Feeling less stressed isn't just about relaxing in a bubble bath with a glass of wine and a good book — sure, this will work in the moment, but if it were that easy to beat stress altogether, the problem would be more under control. Stress is sneaky, and it isn't easily conquered. The good news? The more you know about it, the better off you'll be.
This doesn't mean you should throw your self-care routine aside and try something completely different — you know what works for you better than anyone. It just means that you need to keep some other info in mind, because stress can be weird. Sometimes the things we think are helping could be making things worse, or could just be acting as a band-aid for the real problem. Here are a few things everyone should know about stress:
1. Micro-stresses Could Be Affecting You The Most
It's easy to assume that the worst stress is coming from the big stuff: you're not making enough money at work, your living situation is less than ideal, you're dealing with some huge family changes, etc. Actually, though, the little stuff might be messing with you the most. Recent research from Vodafone UK found that British adults spend the equivalent of 27 days a year, just under two hours a day, worrying about "micro-stresses," including things like losing a wallet or keys. Dr. David Lewis, a psychologist for MindLab International, said, "While these individual stresses may not significantly affect an individual’s physical or psychological performance, a build-up of ‘micro-stresses’ can affect a person’s well-being." When trying to fight stress, remember the small stuff, and try to work on that first. It's an easier hurdle to get over, and it could really make a big difference.
2. A Certain Amount Of Stress Is Good For You
Everything we read about stress sends one message: it's bad. It's terrible. It's ruining your life. But research from 2013 found that, actually, a certain amount of stress is good for you. Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, said, "Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance." She added, "I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert." Basically, it's the same as fear: you need a certain amount of fear to keep you from engaging in really risky behavior. A small amount of stress keeps you from being so lax that you get nothing done. It's a delicate balance!
3. Stress Can Make You Physically Ill
You know how this year's flu season is the worst in recent years? Yeah... stress isn't going to help you beat that. A recent study looked into how stress can make you sick, and researchers found that a protein responds to stress by sending signals to specific immune cells, which can then release chemical substances that can trigger diseases like asthma, lupus, and irritable bowel syndrome. Feeling very stressed is going to make you more susceptible to illnesses, and that's the last thing anyone wants.
4. Alcohol Isn't Be The Cure
If you ask millennials their best way to fight stress, the majority will probably say something involving alcohol. Whether it's enjoying a glass of wine at home or enjoying a few more out in the world, it's hard to argue that alcohol doesn't make you feel more relaxed. But a recent study reveals this is the best way to combat stress. According to The Independent, research found that almost 60 percent of adults turn to alcohol to cope with everyday stresses, and this isn't always the ideal solution. Elaine Hindal, the chief executive of Drinkaware, who did the study, said, "Whilst people might think having a drink after a hard day can help them relax, in the long run it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with." It's totally fine to turn to a drink once in a while when you need to take a break, but if it's your only method of self-care, you should probably find something new.
5. It Can Even Ruin The Things We Enjoy
If your self-care regime is the same all the time, you might want to start switching it up. Psychologists say that when we keep doing the same enjoyable thing every time we're stressed, we may end up with anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure from things we usually love. In other words, too much of a good thing is not good. Research shows that stress can make us want to feel that pleasure so bad, we can never actually get to that level; like our expectations are just too high. So the next time you're about to do the same self-care routine you've been doing for a while, find something new — keep things changing!
6. You Might Want To Try Smelling Your Partner's Clothing
Thought you had nailed every stress trick in the book? You probably haven't tried this one. Recent research found that women feel more relaxed when they smell their partner's clothing. Marlise Hofer, the study's lead author, said, "Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress." Hey, it's definitely worth trying out!
7. Totally Avoiding Bad Outcomes Could Be A Negative Thing
Sometimes, when it comes to stress, you need to accept the worst possible situation. Researchers found that people regularly overestimate the impact of negative situations, and to manage that, you have to accept the worst outcome you can think of. Avoiding it completely or acting like it won't happen isn't going to help — if anything, it could make things worse, because it doesn't allow you to adequately prepare.
8. Get Outside!
Another way to combat stress? Use mother nature to heal. A study from 2016 found that nature can really help with stress. It's an easy fix, so it's one worth trying. You don't need to go on a crazy trip — just take a quick walk during lunch, take your dog for a stroll, or spend an afternoon reading in the park. It could really boost your mood.
9. A Vacation Isn't Always The Answer
Going on vacation is one of the most popular tips for fighting stress. It's supposed to be relaxing, fun, and a welcome break from reality. But research has shown that a vacation isn't always the best answer: If you feel anxiety about going on trips, then it's only going to increase your stress, not make things better. So, a simple trip that doesn't require much planning and thought could be better than something big and overwhelming.