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How stress distorts your self-image and ways to break the vicious cycle

Colleen E. Crane MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker based in Bozeman, Montana. Colleen is currently in private practice and specializes in working with adolescent girls and women.

Chronic stress changes the way you see yourself

There are plenty of reasons why stress is not good for your physical health, but it's also not good for your mental health. When your body is suffering from chronic stress, it sends signals to your brain to move into panic mode and puts your body in a chronic fight-or-flight mode. This results in the shut-down of the thinking or reasoning parts of your brain. You start to see a distorted view of yourself, which only makes your stress escalate.

Stressed woman on bed

When you are under stress, you really aren’t thinking clearly, which tends to perpetuate your perception of stress and degrade your perception of Y-O-U. Good news: We have five ways you can calm yourself and regain clarity.

1

Figure out what triggers your stress

To determine exactly what is distorting your view of self and your life, think about triggers. Are there certain people in your life, a job or a situation that puts you in panic mode? By figuring out your triggers you can help to identify what areas of your life really need your focus and attention.

2

Take a moment
to breathe

When we take deep inhalations and exhalations it helps to tell our internal system to relax. When we are able to relax, certain chemicals are released in our bodies to help us focus and think more clearly. Try taking five deep inhalations and exhalations when you are feeling really stressed or right before you are about to do something really big, like a speech or job interview. You might be stressed and worried, but that brief moment of breathing will help to keep your body and mind in check.

3

Focus on the
whole picture

Sometimes when we get really stressed we start to pick apart every aspect of our lives. We start to criticize our looks, behaviors and relationships. When we are stressed, that distorted view of self can turn really negative. Take a moment and step back to try to understand what is happening to you in the broader context.

4

Surround yourself with supportive people

When we have a strong support system, we are often less stressed and less depressed. Look to friends and family members who build you up, not tear you down. Make a list of three people that you can call and talk to when you are really stressed. Keep that list in a visible area, so when you feel stressed you can call and talk to someone right away.

5

Consider
counseling

If you've been stressed for a long time and you see that it is having a negative impact on your friendships, relationships and other areas of your life, consider meeting with a licensed mental health professional. Professionals have many techniques and tools to help you learn to better manage your stress. Sometimes having professional support helps us get back on the road to a better self-image and less stress sooner than later.

More ways to kick stress to the curb

How to magnify your happiness at home and in life
My life is in shambles: How to restart and get control
10 Ways to soothe yourself without food

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