Stress is completely natural and, biologically speaking, intended to be very beneficial. It is the body’s response to certain life demands or threats that helps you perform better. Like when you come upon a tiger and need to run away or when you are hunting gazelles with spears and need extra strength, alertness and focus. Oh wait. Fast forward to the present and that doesn’t happen to most of us anymore. Stress can help you though meet the deadline for a work project, make the game-winning shot, deliver an amazing presentation or react superhumanly to avoid an accident. The “stress response” of the body was intended for physical, immediate, short-term circumstances that occur infrequently. The problem is that for many people, the stress response is constantly activated more so emotionally than physically, leading to chronic stress that brings with it a variety of health complications.
The Stress Response: What Happens in the Body
When your body is under stress, it responds by releasing various hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. These hormones cause an increase in heart rate, constrict blood vessels which causes blood pressure to rise, hones your sense of sight, smell and hearing and enhances brain function. All of these effects lead to the sudden increase in strength, stamina, speed and reaction time. The body is simply amazing!
Once again though, this response was designed to either help you win a fight or flee from danger. In my case it is mostly to flee from danger; I haven’t been much for fighting. My older brothers can attest to that. What happens though when the body is under chronic stress?
Possible Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Stress
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Digestive issues
- Weight fluctuations
- Cognitive difficulties
- Impaired immune system
- Autoimmune disease
- Hormonal imbalance
- Chronic yeast infections
Techniques to Effectively Manage Stress
Let’s face it. Stress is an inevitable part of life and you needn’t run away or hide from every stressful situation you are confronted with. You probably know a number of people in your life that never appear to get stressed out. How is that possible? Could it be that their life is gum drops and roses all the time? I doubt it. The key is to learn how to balance and manage your stress so that you can be healthier, happier and more productive. With practice, anyone can become stress masters! Some of the following tecniques are based on HealthGuide.org’s stress management section.
1: Identify what causes you stress
Sounds easy, but aside from the major stressors in one’s life, I wager there are many tiny things that are causing you stress that you are completely unaware of. Heck, just the way you think can influence your levels of stress. You alone play the biggest role in creating or maintaining your stress levels and you alone play the biggest role in controlling them.
Start a stress journal. Each time you feel stressed, record it. Over time, you will be able to identify patterns. Try and answer these questions:
- What caused your stress?
- How did you feel? (physically and emotionally)
- How did you respond?
- What did you do to make yourself feel better?
Ask friends and family. Often times it takes someone on the outside to help you identify what’s happening on the inside.
2: Replace unhealthy coping strategies with healthy ones
Contemplate your current coping methods for stress and identify which ones are healthy and productive and which ones are unhealthy and unproductive. The last thing you want is to respond to stress in a way that actually compounds the problem. Once again, you may find it beneficial to ask friends and family what they see as unhealthy coping strategies you may not of thought of.
Examples of unhealthy coping strategies are smoking, drinking alcohol, drugs (prescription and illegal), social isolation, food bingeing, procrastination, excessive sleep, distracting oneself with technology (Facebook, Instagram, movies, tv, video games).
Examples of healthy coping strategies are physical activity, deep breathing, meditation,yoga, friends, humor, hobbies, pets (careful though, pets can also cause a lot of stress as well), prayer, positive self-talk,service, organizing your space and a healthy diet.
Each day you should set apart time to allow your body and mind to relax. The following relaxation tecniques are some of my favorite and all have the potential to lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, lower respiratory rate and lower cortisol levels.
- Deep breathing. Breathing deeply sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax (1). It is extremely effective at managing stress. In summary you want to breath in and out through the nose and down into your tummy. This website does a good job at describing how to practice the technique of deep breathing (click here).
- Yoga. There are various modalities of yoga and surely one of them will feel right to you. Most classes are free for the first time so go out and experiment. Maybe group classes or paying a monthly fee isn’t something you want to do. That’s okay. Youtube offers an amazing selection of great yoga videos you can do at home.
- Meditation. Is training for the mind. Don’t think you need to become a monk to meditate nor do you need hours to do so. Even just a few minutes can be effective in reducing stress and relaxing. Click (here) to read up on tips on how to begin meditating.There is also great online meditation videos that will walk you through the process if you’re a newbie.
- Massage. I don’t think I need to talk much about massage therapy. Anyone who has recieved a professional massage has experienced its awesome benefits. If you haven’t ever had a professional massage, you need to!
- Reflexology. This really is a modality of massage, but deserves its own bullet point. Reflexology can directly stimulate energy meridians and organ function that may need support due to chronic stress, like the adrenal glands.
4: Physical Movement
Notice how I didn’t say exercise? Too many people equate exercise to strenuous activity. But even simple bodily movements can provide serious stress reducing benefits. Regular exercise (movement) helps improve mood, takes your mind off of current worries, increases the feel-good neurotransmitters known as endorphins, improves sleep and helps build self-confidence and self-worth. (1)
5: Tapping (Emotional Freedom Tecnique)
This technique is based on the theory that there exist energy meridians within the body and that by tapping with your fingers on different points on the body relieves stress and anxiety. Really? Tapping myself is supposed to help me? Surprisingly yes (3). I know countless people who swear by it. Before you dismiss it, why not give it a try? Click here to view an instructional video on tapping.
6: Avoid unnecessary stress.
Not all stress can or should be avoided, but seriously, there is a lot of stress in people’s lives that really shouldn’t even exist.
- Remember, you can almost always say “no”. Don’t wait until your plate is already overflowing with commitments. Learn to say no before you reach your limit. It’s easy, I’ll teach you. Repeat after me, “no”. Good job. Now, one more time, “no”. You got it!
- Stay away from people who cause you stress. Either limit your time with them or end the relationship.
- Take control of your environment. If driving in traffic stresses you out, take public transit. If crowded malls make you anxious, shop online. If doing dishes makes you want to pull your hair out, make your kids do it (haha… just kidding. Slightly.)
- Prioritize your to-do list. Only God could accomplish everything on some people’s to-do list. Prioritize your to-do list with the most important things to do at the top and then decreasing in importance towards the bottom. If you don’t finish everything on the list, oh well. At least you have accomplished the most vital.
- Simplify. Many of us love to complicate our lives by filling it with stuff. Try organizing your home or work space and get rid of unnecessary items. My wife and I try and live by the one-year rule. If we haven’t used something within the last year, we don’t need it!
7: Have fun!
Nothing relieves stress as quickly as laughing and having a good time. Research has proven it over and over again (5)(6). It also helps to take your mind off of matters that are worrying you and allows you to revisit them with a fresh perspective. As you prioritize your to-do list, make sure a little “me/fun” time is near the top each day.
8: Social Connecting
There is something magical and soothing about spending time with someone who listens to you and understands you. There is a brilliant Ted Talk titled “The Power of Vulnerability”, and I fully agree with what the speaker says. Don’t be afraid to take down your walls of defense and open up to those close to you. Facebook, Snapchat or email just won’t do here. It is the literaly face-to-face interaction with another human that helps reverse the body’s defensive stress response.
9: Learn the skill of adaptability.
- Put on the lens of positivity. Yeah, the traffic sucks, but at least your favorite song is on the radio.
- Take a bird’s eye view. Is the current situation really going to matter tomorrow? Next month? Next year? If not, I’m sure you can save your energy for more productive tasks.
- Adjust your standards. While perfection is nice, “good enough” isn’t all that bad either.
- Find things to be grateful for. It’s amazing how effective this is at relieving stress. You can be grateful for personal qualities, your family and your life in general.
10: Get outside!
There is something magical about being out in mother nature. Few things can call calm the soul like a gentle breeze, the sound of moving water, the melodic singing of birds and clean, fresh air. All it takes is 10 minutes or so outside to feel revitalized and calm. You could also practice deep breathing outside for an incredible stress reducing combo. To get even more benefit from being outside, take your shoes off and feel the grass and dirt beneath your feet. This simple act allows you to connect with mother earth energetically and is known as earthing. For more information on earthing and its amazing health benefits, visit our blog post here.
11: Accept the unchangeable.
Some things just are the way they are no matter what we do. Death cannot be changed. The financial market moves up and down independent of you. And no matter how well a guy aims, urine will always get everywhere.
- Learn to forgive
- Time to put on the lens of positivity again
- Communicate your feelings
Stress is real. You simply can not avoid it altogether. But you certainly don’t have to allow it to dominate you life. Start making steps to manage and control your stress today!