How to Manage Severe Stress

Stress is not always a bad thing. It is your body's natural way of responding to demand. An impending deadline, a presentation before superiors, or a school assessment will induce stress. Your body initiates the fight or flight circuit to help you meet these demands. Even complex issues such as job loss, divorce, the death of a loved one induce stress. The body helps you regulate stress through the stress response.
At critical stress levels, the stress response can malfunction, leaving you overwhelmed. Before stress buries you under, you need ways to help you manage the situation before it wreaks havoc on your mental and physical health.

Understanding the Stress Response

The stress response begins in the amygdala. The amygdala picks up all sensations in the body and interprets them. When it detects stress, it sends signals to the hypothalamus, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones work together to increase energy in your body in preparation for fight or flight.

Adrenaline increases the heartbeat rate to raise the supply of oxygen to the muscles and the brain. It constricts your blood vessels to boost blood pressure - in essence, elevating blood flow rate. It also enhances your breathing rate to increase the volume of oxygen in the blood.

Your brain and muscles use the oxygen to make energy. The brain uses oxygen to increase alertness. It also increases the contraction and relaxation of muscles, causing muscle spasms and twitches, all in preparation for fight or flight. Adrenaline's effect on your body is what is known as the adrenaline rush.

Cortisol works with adrenaline to sustain the fight or flight state. It stimulates the breakdown of glucose, increasing its bioavailability in the blood for use by the brain and muscles. Cortisol also suppresses activity in the gastrointestinal tract, reproductive system, and so forth to reserve the energy for defense.

All these physiological processes occur in a blink of an eye. The sudden surge of energy lets you avoid oncoming traffic or take your hand off a hot surface. Once the problem is solved, the stress response circuit is inhibited as the parasympathetic system is activated to let you relax.

The Disadvantages of a Hyperactive Stress Response

However, when your body is constantly bombarded with stress, this natural response becomes a working nightmare. The amygdala becomes overburdened by persistent stimulation creating a crisis even in the presence of non-stressful stimuli.

The fight or flight state keeps you constantly anxious, agitated, angry, and helpless. It wards off relaxation, induces insomnia, and restricts mental rest. It also interferes with the functioning of the reproductive system, immune and digestive system. Persistent high blood pressure can lead to the hardening of the arteries, which in turn increases susceptibility to cardiomyopathy.

Furthermore, the continuous release of sugar in the blood because of glucagon stimulation and insulin inhibition may trigger diabetes. Mentally, severe stress can trigger mental disorders such as chronic anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Therefore, it is crucial to learn ways to manage stress to maintain the wellbeing of your body and mind. Here are practical ways to manage severe stress.


Workouts are not just good for staying fit. They are also endorphin releasers. Endorphins are feel-good biomolecules that act on the reward pathways of the brain. When this circuit is activated, it enhances feelings of pleasure and motivation.

Endorphins also stimulate the release of dopamine and serotonin. The two neurotransmitters activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which mediates over pathways that induce relaxation and calmness. The two biomolecules also improve your mood and inhibit the stress response by suppressing the secretion of adrenaline and cortisol.

Additionally, exercising helps you improve your cardiovascular health and regulate blood sugar by burning it to energy. Endorphins also boost your appetite and sleep pattern when they trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine.

Exercising can be as simple as jogging, walking, or running. It will help you clear your mind and reason rationally. When the storms of life are raging, indulge in some workouts to help you stay sane.

Employ Relaxation Techniques

One of the symptoms of the stress response is hyperventilation. Rapid breathing drops the level of carbon dioxide in your blood as it increases oxygen concentration. The process feels like your heart is coming off your chest or you are having a heart attack.

Relaxation techniques come in handy in this situation. Meditation is one way to calm down. Aside from releasing endorphins, meditation enables you to do some soul searching. Self-reflection is crucial in managing stressful situations. When life throws curveballs, meditation helps you solve the problem instead of prematurely reacting.
Meditation lets you analyze your strengths and weakness so that you can focus on areas that need improvement. It also provides grounds for learning and growth. Instead of ignoring the problem or turning the situation into self-blame and self-hate, meditation helps you employ logic and deductive reasoning.

Music is equally therapeutic. It is especially significant in averting anxiety. Soothing music syncs with your heartbeat slowing it down. It also helps you relax instead of letting the stress work you up into a frenzy. Once you are calm, you can tackle your issues without the anxiety and rashness triggered by the stress response.

Controlled breathing is another way to induce calmness when things get thick. It helps you regulate your breathing and heartbeat rate. It also lowers your blood pressure. You can slow your breathing to one breath every five seconds to keep you from hyperventilating.

Know Your Triggers

One way to avoid stress is by knowing your stressors. Stressors induce stress. It could be a toxic work environment, cumbersome responsibilities, or a strenuous relationship. Whatever the cause, find it, face it, fix it or avoid it. Do not entertain it. You may think you are handling the situation, but it is destroying you mentally and physically.

Do not tolerate a toxic job or partner at the expense of your mental health. The same applies to habits that put a strain on your mental and physical wellbeing. The cost is your life. Therefore, it is okay to walk away or put up boundaries.

Pick Up Positive Habits

Stress can push you into entertaining destructive coping behaviors. A quick way to forget problems often involves using psychostimulants like alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, or pain medication. Psychoactive substances can also be everyday foods like caffeinated drinks, sugar, and comfort foods.

Psychoactive substances activate the reward pathways in your brain. Their effect is intense compared to your body's natural reward pathways. The ugly side of psychostimulants is that they lead to addiction. They rewire the brain by forming new circuits that only respond to the psychoactive elements, leading to dependency and addiction.

Instead of choosing destructive coping habits, take on behaviors that build you up. Journaling, dancing, hiking, sightseeing, traveling, and painting are some of the habits that can help you maneuver through stressful situations without self-destructing.

Talk to Someone

Life is hard enough to carry your burdens alone. Find someone you can trust and confide in them. There is no harm in sharing your problem because a problem shared is already half solved. Another person's outlook can help you see the bigger picture, your biases, or the positive lens in your situation. Your friend or loved one will also help you keep hope alive.

If you have nobody to talk to, you could always reach out to a professional in mental health. A counseling psychologist has the experience and resources to help you handle life's biggest hurdles without losing your mind. A therapist also provides support and empowers you to take control of your mental state. Do not suffer alone or in silence when there is help readily available.

Take Some Time Off to Heal

When life demands overwhelm you, take some time away from the hustle and bustle to heal and revitalize your mind. A break is crucial in reducing the pressure to perform, carry out responsibilities, and figure things out.

Additionally, taking time off helps you see a clear picture - your situation without the interference of everyday demands. It is also a great way to self-reflect and self-actualize. You do not need to make decisions prematurely. Find time to focus on yourself.

Congratulate yourself for trying. Stop being too critical of your failures. Errors are a learning tool. Now that you know better, aim higher. If you need to make amends with friends and loved ones, seek them and mend fences. Find inner peace and let it govern your situation.

Accept Your Situation

Come to terms with your reality. Whether it is the death of a loved one or a failed test or interview, you cannot undo the outcome. Do not waste time on regrets - that is a closed door. If there is a way to salvage the situation try it - but accept the outcome. Such is life, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose - and that is okay. Therefore, make the most of every moment and embrace your reality until it is not burdensome anymore.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help.  We have Intensive Outpatient Programs for adolescents and adults which are located in Katy, The Woodlands, and Houston, Texas.  We also provide online treatment programs for anyone who resides within the State of Texas, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock, Corpus Christi, and El Paso.  To learn more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796 or visit our website at

14 July, 2021

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