According to a 2017 Gallup survey, about eight in 10 Americans frequently or sometimes encounter stress in their day-to-day lives. Not only does this impact one’s emotional and mental wellness, it takes a massive toll on the body too. The American Stress Foundation states that stress can cause a number of physiological effects in the moment, such as tense muscles and rapid breathing, but it can also impact you long-term. This is seen in certain disorders such as insomnia, hypertension and increased susceptibility to infections.
With medical knowledge and technology advancing at a historically high rate, why are individuals still suffering from lofty levels of stress? What are the top catalysts of these ever-so-present emotions? Studies show that health, finances and safety rank number one, with interpersonal relationships and politics following. These all seem pretty intuitive – life is expensive, bills stack up faster than we can handle, and the political climate can cause a lot of uncertainty, too. Still, should these levels really be upsurging?
Karen Gorton, assistant professor at the University of Colorado College of Nursing, has a unique stance on this topic, stating that in our technology-saturated world, stress boils over now more than ever.
“Our access to knowledge is instantaneous and we are being inundated by it,” Gorton said. She notes that in the field of nursing alone, “an individual’s knowledge base is doubling every 12 months.” This large influx of new knowledge can create a lot pressure to keep up. And, as technology continues to advance at an incredibly high speed, it can become increasingly difficult to fully unplug.
“We have come to expect an immediate response from people – that’s the new norm,” Gorton said. “Society has lost the boundary of personal space and time because we have social pressure to always be connected,” and that can be a huge source of stress for people. Learning how to bounce back from stress, having the capacity to handle it in the moment without tipping over the edge, and learning self-management skills is paramount in the chaotic world we live in today.
What are some of the most impactful ways to manage stress?
“If, and when, you are feeling stressed, take 10 deep breaths and spend some time asking yourself, ‘What has pushed me to this tipping point?’” Gorton said. She also notes that it can be effective to actually tell those around you that you have been pushed past your limit and need some time to cool down. If you are able to, remove yourself from the context, and allow yourself some time to reflect. These simple actions can make a profound difference in your overall response to stress.
Additional research shows that listening to soothing music can wind down your heart rate and blood pressure, some of the most common symptoms of stress build-up. Any form of physical activity, including walking, yoga, and stretching, can be beneficial as well because it releases feel-good chemicals into the body and allows you to actually practice managing stress. So, lace-up those running shoes, take a moment to deeply inhale and exhale, or turn up your favorite tune, even for just a moment. You may find that your feelings of being stressed and overwhelmed are able to subside.
Gorton is hosting a series on building your personal and professional resilience starting Sept. 28 at CU South Denver. She hopes to teach individuals how to better cope with stress through an internationally recognized system of practical solutions called HeartMath. There are two session options, or individuals can choose to attend both. Participants will discover what depletes and renews emotions, heart-focused breathing and more.