How not to manage stress

There are certain behaviors not to engage in when stressed.

I’ve written many articles about stress and a lot of those articles have focused on strategies to de-stress, calm down or cope when life has thrown you a curve ball. I often dole out this same advice in the social emotional education classes that I teach. A few weeks ago in an anger management class, a workshop participant asked “what one shouldn’t do when stressed.” I had to change my thinking in order to answer her, but there are definitely some things that one shouldn’t be doing to cope with stress, and the anxiety that often accompanies it.

One of the first things I always tell my program participants is to not drink alcohol excessively as a coping mechanism when stressed or under pressure. This is particularly important since I work with many adults who are actively participating in or recently completed addiction recovery programs. Michigan State University Extension says that there are many studies that have documented the fact that consuming alcohol is not an effective strategy for dealing with life stressors. Alcohol, in the short-term blocks the production of cortisol, the hormone that is produced as the body’s stress response, but in the long-term, it just ends up prolonging the anxiety by having the problems hang around until one is ready to face them. What’s worse is that alcohol can impede the absorption of B-complex vitamins and zinc, which help with feeling soothed and relaxed.

Another thing I tell program participants is to not do what you’ve been doing, and think that things are going to change. In my writings about chronic stress, I’ve established that it is a major issue for many Americans and has been proven to lead to a variety of health problems from headaches to diabetes to hypertension. Aside from affecting our physical health, stress impacts us on a cognitive and emotional level, especially when it comes to the part of the brain that has to do with decision making. A study, published in 2009 from the University of Minho found that chronically stressed out rats do not know how to adapt to change in their environments because the habit-forming regions of the brain enlarge, while the goal-oriented regions shrink when exposed to chronic environmental stressors. The same was not true for their counterparts in a control group, which was not subjected to stress – inducing circumstances.

What does this suggest? Chronic stress can rewire our brains to keep us stuck in an unhealthy place – such as in a toxic relationship, habitually making unhealthy food choices or staying in a stressful job. I tell program participants to use all of their available emotional and physical energy to change that habit they want to break or stop the cycle that is causing the stress. Research has shown that it takes only four weeks to generate new neurons or pathways in the brain related to decision making once environmental stressors are removed.

So, when feeling stressed, don’t automatically reach for a beer or remain stuck in your rut. There are lots of things one can do to cope with stress in an effective way. To learn more about this topic or obtain other information about stress and coping, please visit our website at www.msue.msu.edu.

Related Articles

Related Resources