Are you stressed out? If you’re like most Americans, chances are the answer is, “Heck, yeah!” Unfortunately, stress is now just a way of life for too many of us. Whether it’s concerns over the uncertain economy, struggling to meet deadlines at work, handling family emergencies, dealing with relationship woes, or even tolerating daily traffic jams, there seems to be an unending parade of stressors in modern life.
Since this is National Stress Awareness Month, now’s a good time to discuss the different aspects of stress, how it can help or hurt you, and the coping mechanisms that can diminish it. If you’re already feeling too stressed to read the rest of this article, you really need to … so take a deep breath and read on.
What is stress?
The term “stress” is used as an umbrella term that covers the range of physiological responses to certain life events, such as an imminent threat, a heated argument, and real or imagined danger. When you react to stress, your body is trying to protect itself in the face of certain challenges. By releasing adrenaline and cortisol hormones, your body readies you for action. Consequently, your blood pressure rises, breathing becomes more rapid and your heart pounds. These physiological changes help to boost your strength, bolster your stamina and hone your focus.
If you’re stressed, you’re not alone
According to a March survey, 77% of Americans suffer from job-related stress. Topping the list of workplace stressors was low pay; however, commuting, unreasonable workloads and layoff fears were not too far behind.
Common negative stressors include the death of a loved one, divorce, injury or illness. Even though most people associate stress with negative situations, stress can also arise in positive scenarios, too. Any highly charged situation, especially one which forces you to quickly react, can cause stress. Positive stressors include marriage, buying a house, having a child and getting a promotion. And, depending on your personality, you may suffer from self-imposed stress, from mental states like pessimism, perfectionism or the inability to accept uncertainty.
Are you a serial stressor?
Although stress helps you meet short-term challenges, chronic stress can leave your body both over stimulated and depleted, risking damage to your health. Long-term stress can suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, and can even lead to premature aging, leaving you more vulnerable to emotional problems such as anxiety and depression.
These are serious health concerns so we encourage you to take time to consider how you’ll react in various situations. Often, those who suffer from chronic stress don’t actually recognize when they are stressed. The warning signs include constantly worrying, feeling overwhelmed, sleeping too little and frequent colds. If you believe you might be suffering from chronic stress, the first step is to talk with your doctor. Beyond that, here are some specific ideas about how to reduce the impacts of stress in your life.
Tips for managing stress
To start, coping mechanisms such as smoking, overeating, avoiding social interactions, lashing out at others and abusing drugs are known to be harmful to your health. Fortunately, there are healthier ways to manage stress, including …
Guided Imagery … Think of a peaceful setting. Imagine all the details, including visuals, smells and sounds. Think about how calm you feel. Use this process whenever you are faced with stressful situations.
Talk to a Friend … Expressing your feelings to a trusted friend can lighten your load. Remember, the more you isolate yourself, the more susceptible you will be to stress.
Aromatherapy … Thanks to the nose’s strong ties to the brain, aromatherapy offers a quick and easy way to foster a relaxed state of mind. Lavender, citrus and vanilla are effective scents that can be purchased at health food stores.
Exercise … Walk, swim or take a bike ride. When you exercise at a certain level over a period of time, the body produces chemicals that can make you feel good. And, you’ll probably drop some weight, too.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids … Serotonin, a hormone found naturally in the brain, is responsible for controlling emotional responses and creating a sense of well-being. The EPA and DHA present in Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain healthy levels of serotonin.
Eat a Healthy Diet … Try to avoid fast foods loaded with fat and preservatives, overly salted foods, caffeine and sugar. Make sure your diet includes proteins, whole grains, fresh veggies and plenty of water.
Laugh … Laughing actually induces physical changes in your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.”
Meditate … It’s not necessary to take a class or even buy a book. Find a comfortable and quiet spot and think about all of the positive things in your life. Make an effort to feel truly thankful for each of them.
Enjoy Nature … Taking a walk outdoors can do you a world of good. Basking in sunshine not only feels good, it is good for your health, when taken in moderation. Sunshine helps stimulate serotonin, which can promote a good mental outlook.
Help Someone Else … Research reveals that people who engage in altruistic behavior are inclined to enjoy better mental health.
Learn to Say No … You may be surprised to learn that many people find it difficult to say “no”. Reserving this right every once in a while can keep you from filling up every minute of every day.
Indulge in Your Hobbies … When you do something you love to do, you go to a more positive emotional level.
Learn from Others … Do you admire how a friend or co-worker handles stressful situations? If so, observe (or simply ask them) how they do it. You may learn a helpful trick or two.
Do Nothing … Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s okay to just do nothing at all for a while. Stop whatever activity is at-hand and savor the moment.
Ask for Help … If you start to feel overwhelmed by chores or tasks, ask for help. It’s as simple as that!
Smile … Try it right now. You may find this minimal act an instant stress reducer.
Groove More … Treat yourself to some excellent tunes, preferably up-tempo.
Do One Thing at a Time … Smart phones and computers are great, but sometimes they can boggle the senses, increasing stress.
Hydrotherapy … Soaking in a hot bath sprinkled with epsom salts can help release muscle tension and get you ready for a good night’s sleep.
Curl up with a Friend … Spending quality time with your companion animal can lower blood pressure and stress levels.
No matter which techniques you choose to incorporate in your routine, we truly hope they’ll help you to live a more abundant life, with less abundant stress!