Stress is a common factor in developing an addiction, and it’s a major trigger for relapse.1 Whether it comes from everyday worries, finances, family dysfunction or the demands of work or school, effectively coping with stress is crucial for successful recovery.
An important focus of any high-quality treatment program is helping clients learn how to manage stress and develop the necessary skills for coping with stressful, high-risk situations. Reducing stress not only helps prevent relapse, but it can also dramatically improve your overall quality of life.
The Body’s Response to Stress
Half of all Americans experience moderate stress, and 25 percent report having high levels of stress, according to Harvard Medical School.2
When you experience a stressful event, the brain’s hypothalamus communicates with your body through the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary body functions like heartbeat, breathing and blood pressure.
The autonomic nervous system is made up of the sympathetic nervous system, which gives the body energy to respond to perceived danger, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body down once the threat has passed.
When you’re under stress, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of adrenaline into the blood stream, causing an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and muscle tension. This is the body’s stress response.
Once the first wave of adrenaline subsides, the body releases cortisol, another stress hormone that keeps the body alert and revved up. When the threat passes, the parasympathetic nervous system dampens the stress response. Cortisol levels fall, breathing and heart rate return to normal and muscles relax.
Acute vs. Chronic Stress
Acute stress is short-lived, and in some cases, it’s beneficial because it increases motivation and helps sharpen your focus so that you can act to resolve the stressful situation. Examples of acute stress include an impending deadline or an event like a car accident. Once the deadline is met or the danger of injury has passed, the stress response ends.
Chronic stress is long-term stress that may result from an unresolved problem, such as childhood trauma, or an ongoing situation, such as financial difficulties or a dysfunctional home life. Chronic stress leaves the body in a perpetual stress response mode and can lead to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
14 Ways to Relax and Reduce Your Body’s Stress Response
Combatting both acute and chronic stress is surprisingly simple and can be achieved through a range of techniques and therapies that promote relaxation and reduce stress hormone levels, either over time or on the spot.
Here are 14 research-based ways to reduce your body’s response to acute and chronic stress and improve your overall health.
Get Some Exercise
Physical exercise is a powerful tool for combatting stress. Exercise reduces stress hormone levels on the spot and stimulates the release of endorphins and natural painkillers to improve your mood and promote feelings of well-being. The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that exercise not only reduces your…