We’ve all experienced stress in our lives at some point or another. It can be triggered by a wide variety of things – for example, being stuck in traffic, having to meet a deadline for work, studying or writing examples for school, job loss, bad grades, financial obligations and other demands, moving, divorce, chronic illness, death, as well as traumatic events such as natural disasters, theft, or sexual assault. Stress can also be triggered by underlying emotional problems such as low self-esteem and depression. Regardless of whatever it is that triggers your stress, we can all agree that it’s not fun to deal with. Depending on the individual, stress can be acute (short term), episodic (frequent), or chronic (long-term.)

When it comes to relieving stress, it is important for patients to first be able to recognize when they’re stressed. Stress can be such a common, frequent occurrence for some, to the point where they spend so much time in that heightened state that they’ll sometimes lose the ability to differentiate between when they’re feeling stressed out and when they aren’t, which is why it’s important to take a step back and pay attention to the warning signs by listening to your body. If you’re happy and relaxed, you’re more likely to be smiling or laughing. When you’re stressed, however, your eyes may feel heavy, and your muscles may be tense – which can include a clenched jaw, hands, and even abdominal cramping. If you’re stressed you may also notice that you have shallow breathing. These are all clues that you may be under stress.

Next, you need to pay attention to how you respond to stress. Internally, our stress response is known as the “fight or flight” response. During a “fight or flight” response, your heart pumps faster, muscles constrict, pulse races, blood pressure increases, and your immune system drains. However, externally, we often react to stress in two different ways – an overexcited stress response or an under-excited stress response. During an overexcited stress response you may feel agitated, angry, or overly emotional; while an underexcited stress response cam include feelings of hopelessness, and you may even become withdrawn. If you experience an overexcited stress response, you’ll react better to finding activities that are quiet and keep you calm. If you experience an underexcited stress response, you’ll benefit from finding activities that keep you energized and are stimulating.

Finding relief from stress often involves different sensory techniques such as sight, smell, touch, taste, movement and sound. Explore nature by going to your favourite park or beach, look at a favourite photo, light a scented candle, drink a warm cup of tea, write in a journal, join a dance group. It’s all about finding something you enjoy that will lift your spirits. If you’re having trouble coming up with something, sometimes observing how others handle their stress can also help a great deal, and you may even benefit from joining a local support group. Having people to talk to who know exactly that you’re dealing with can make you feel less alone, and you may even make new friends as a result.

If you do happen to experience stress on a frequent basis, this is something that you also need to bring up to your family physician. He or she will be able to provide you with additional resources in your community, and possibly other stress-relieving techniques not mentioned here, as well as make necessary referrals to outpatient therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist.