Saying Goodbye to Stress
You’ve got a meeting at 8 A.M, the kids aren’t ready, you should’ve gotten gas yesterday and your GPS shows a traffic backup for miles. Life is stressful, and how stress affects the body actually preps you for emergencies. Those heightened senses allow you to spring into action, moving the kids to the car as you’re making a phone call to the office, tying shoes and stuffing book bags, and thinking of an alternate route to work to avoid the construction.
This is a prime example of acute stress, where the “fight or flight” reaction creates a short-termresponse to a sudden challenge or experience, such as an argument, a hard-breaking stop to avoid a traffic accident or playing a close pickup game of basketball. The quick spike in blood pressure, heart rate, adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones operate on pure instinct, regardless of the trigger. With your senses primed, you’re better equipped to handle stressful situations.
You may feel like you’re always coming down with something, which makes perfect sense: Episodic stress wreaks havoc on the immune system. Your sick days end up eating into your fun days, creating a catch-22 for stress reduction, because taking a day for yourself is one of the best ways to conquer it.
Episodic stress can also affect your mood. You may feel irritable, anxious or depressed. You may be labeled as a “worrier” or “negative Nellie.” Your feeling of high anxiety may even dial you out of discussions or higher profile responsibilities, which can impact those around you.
A lot happens in your brain when you’re stressed. All of those hormones that flood your body come at a price—those heightened senses may lead to sensory overload, while your short-term memory may also suffer.
Long-term stress, also called chronic stress, often comes from devastating life events such as extreme poverty, household abuse or other demands that continue over long periods of time. Those who experience chronic stress may not be aware how it’s impacting their lives, but it can contribute to profound health issues.
The worst part of chronic stress is that it becomes normal. Even though you still experience the same rush of hormones, you get used to living on the edge, believing that everything is as it should be. Until itisn’t. Add one more stress point into the mix, and it can be enough to turn a bad situation worse. Stress disorders are real, and luckily, there are ways to combat them before they become problematic.
Everyone feels stress differently so it’s important to understand your personal triggers, aka “stressors,” that start you down that emotional spiral. Start by asking these questions:
- What do I find most stressful in my life?
- How can I manage these stressors?
- What can I do to help release the added tension?
While you may not be able to avoid every situation that causes stress, you may be able to minimize them. For example, if delivering a speech makes you nervous, but writing one puts you in a happy place, see if you’re able to share the responsibilities. When you absolutely, positively must write and deliver that speech, you may want to try some techniques to help you reduce your anxiousness by practicing in front of a select audience, or watching some videos that demonstrate successful speech delivery tips. You may find that, after a few experiences, you’ll improve and feel a lot more comfortable and confident.
Not all stress is as predictable, and so you should know how to unwind after a busy day. For some people, a glass of wine and some soft lighting or music do the trick. Others rely on meditation and yoga to help balance the mind-body connection. Diffusing essential oils is often associated with relaxation, and may help you fall asleep.
Additionally, sleep deprivation can lead to stress, which can lead to more sleep loss. Break the cycle! Create a relaxation oasis in your bedroom. You may even want to try a sound machine for a great night’s sleep every night.
Massage can be a wonderful way to help you relax tense muscles. A deep-tissue massage uses a combination of techniques that start with light pressure and then slowly progresses to firmer strokes that are specifically designed to help loosen tight muscles. An in-home massage can help you manage your stress levels. There are several different types of massagers to help deliver spa-like comfort whenever you need it.
Exercise can release those endorphins when dealing with common types of stress. Runner’s high, anyone? While you don’t have to run to experience a mood shift, any type of exercise that gets you moving will help you relax and manage your stress. A walk around the block can change your mind and let you see things from a different perspective. You can even grab an easy workout at your desk. Furthermore, regular exercise can help you sleep better, eat more regularly and chase away those blues. As with any new exercise program, consult your physician before you begin.
While all of these techniques are great for managing different types of stress, some stress needs more than a walk in the park to help it depart. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for chronic stress may require counseling and added care. Take time to heal, and make time to keep yourself healthy, happy and ready to take on your best life.