5 Facts about Stress (and 17 Ways to Deal with It)

yoga outdoors. silhouette of a woman sitting in lotus positionAmericans are famous for being a hard-working bunch, taking the fewest paid vacation days off. I, for one, spent the summer studying advanced yoga therapy techniques on weekends, and working during the week, especially during the months of June and August. But I made sure to take some time off at the beginning and again at the end of the season so I could relax a bit, and I’m glad I did. Studying ways to help people relax is hard work, and it can be pretty stressful!

What did I learn at yoga school? I studied what happens to your body when it is subjected to relentless stress, and the importance of learning how to relax and let go. The stress response works great if you’re running away from a hungry tiger, but prolonged stress is bad for you because it weakens the body and the brain.

This is why:

  1. Your adrenal glands pump adrenaline, which raises your heart rate, your blood pressure, and increases the amount of sugar in your blood. Your adrenal cortex sends out cortisol, part of the stress response. This helps you run fast when you’re escaping the tiger, but when it becomes habitual and there aren’t any tigers to run away from, it is destructive.
  2. Stress kills brain cells; a calm environment permits their growth. It is not true that brain cells stop growing when you’re an adult, they just grow more slowly. So help them out and give them a nice place to live.
  3. Stress is associated with depression and anxiety. No fun.
  4. Your immune system doesn’t work as well as it should. Ah-choo!
  5. The right amount of stress is beneficial, but too much is deadly.

That’s why relaxation is as important as eating well and getting enough exercise and should be part of your regular health routine. It’s a way to take care of yourself and show yourself some love. So if it’s not a part of your usual day, you might want to think about adding it to your program. Don’t have much time? I bet you can find five or 10 minutes to call your own if you look hard.

Maybe your family is demanding. Make some demands of your own in return. You need a break just as much as anyone needs anything.

Working hard for a tyrannical boss? Find a way to make your work environment more pleasant. Look around and see if there’s some small thing you can do to make things better for you—adding a foot rest, for example, if your seat is too high for you, or wearing really comfortable shoes if you spend a lot of time on your feet.

One powerful relaxation technique is restorative yoga. Like all yoga, the sequence is based on bending forward, backward, sideways, and twisting. The difference is that these poses are held for a long time—five or even 10 minutes. You place yourself in a pose, child’s pose, for example, but your body is supported by bolsters so that you are in complete and absolute comfort.

I invite you to try the restorative version of child’s pose. Start child pose the usual way, but with the short end of a bolster in front of you, and then fold over it lengthwise so your body is supported by the bolster. There are many such adaptations of yoga poses you may already know. You can get DVDs that will show you how, but I think if you are able, it’s best to visit a class or two and learn directly from a teacher.

Finally, if you absolutely can’t stop the worried, anxious chatter in your brain and you’re always wired, consider seeing a therapist for some help.

Below are some of my favorite ways to relax. Like everyone, I need time out for myself, even if it’s only a few minutes. I don’t always feel like I have to respond immediately to help other people. I need to take care of myself first, and you do, too.

  1. Take warm, relaxing baths.
  2. Go for a walk in the park.
  3. Water and admire your plants.
  4. Fill the room with a lovely scent.
  5. Take a yoga class, or give yourself one.
  6. Meditate.
  7. Read.
  8. Listen to music.
  9. Have a nice visit with someone.
  10. Watch television.
  11. Go swimming.
  12. Breathe.
  13. Give yourself enough time to do things, so you’re not always rushing.
  14. Laugh. This is very important. Among other things, laughter opens up the airways and pumps fresh air into your lungs. Also, it’s fun.
  15. Dance.
  16. Jog.
  17. Pet the cat, dog, or other pets.

I bet you have many other favorite ways to relax, things you enjoy doing. The secret is to remember to do them. Helping others helps with your stress, by the way, so why not post your favorite ways to relax and give us more ideas? (If you feel like it, that is!)

References:

  1. Berzin, R. (2014, July 20). 10 Reasons Why Stress Is The Most Dangerous Toxin In Your Life. Retrieved from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14560/10-reasons-why-stress-is-the-most-dangerous-toxin-in-your-life.html
  2. Krantz, D., Thorn, B., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2013). How Stress Affects Your Health. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-facts.pdf

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Will

    Will

    September 23rd, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    Is it cheesy to admit that sometimes when I am feeling depressed just hanging out with the dogs helps to lift my spirits? I might take them on a nice long hie and while they are loving the new places to explore I am getting a chance to get out and clear the head. We run, we play, and believe me, when it is time to hunker down and cuddle, then they are there for me.

  • mary2

    mary2

    September 23rd, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    I bake to calm down. But have to share my treats with others so I don’t get too overweight!

  • desmond

    desmond

    September 23rd, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    You know, a little bit of stress can be a tiny bit invigorating and kind of help you shake it off and get moving. Sometimes you need just that extra little push that stress can give you. I am not talking about an amount that would be overwhelming, just enough to let you see that hmm, maybe it is time to get started on this project after all.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    September 23rd, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    Hi Will- nothing whatsoever cheesy about hanging out with the dogs. It’s great therapy.

    Mary2- I bake bread. What do you bake?

    Desmond- Right on. Sometimes the right amount of stress helps us take off.

  • Shaun H

    Shaun H

    September 24th, 2014 at 3:49 AM

    I like to go for a nice long drive. Now I will admit that there have been a few times when my foot got a little heavy, I guess I was probably too emotional to get behind the wheel right then. But there have been other times where a long drive hit the spot. JUst a little relaxation time for me with the top down and enjoying being out on the open road. Now it has to be a drive where, you know. there just won’t be added stress. So like a drive in the muntains can be nice or even along the coast if you are lucky enough to live near the water.

  • E Baker

    E Baker

    September 24th, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    My husband likes to listen to music so I always know when he has had a rough day and immediately comes home and heads to the man cave for the stereo (yes we still have one of those hahaha). I used to kind of get offended, like he didn’t want to talk to me but would bury himself in his music when he was low. I have come to understand over the years that this is his way of dealing, I have mine and he has his and after a while it just seems to mellow him out so I will take it. Sure I would love it if conversation could do that for him, but he needs that little extra decompression time with his tunes before he can even get to that point.

  • laura

    laura

    September 26th, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    I can always tell when I am working a little too hard and am feeling stressed because it is inevitable that I will get sick.

    A cold, headaches, something will always be triggered in me when I have just had too manyt hings going on and not nearly enough time to deal with them rationally. Usually I just keep goinglike the energizer bunny until I just can’t go anymore and then I am out of commission far longer than I should be!

    It is always an endless cycle of work work work until I crash

  • Maggie

    Maggie

    September 26th, 2014 at 9:07 PM

    I can’t seem to relieve my stress- married 40 yrs to a person I should have not married. Misery. I hate it- separate beds- most everything separate. Sorry to be so negative- it just gets me so down most of the time- 2 adult kids – they love him- it’s hard.
    I stay tired.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    September 28th, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Hi E-
    I e mailed my response. Not sure if you got it, but thanks for writing and maybe you could let me know by writing in again and telling me?
    Take care,
    Lyn

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    September 28th, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Laura- The word is balance. Work till you drop, or work and take time off to relax- either way you’ll have to stop. Why not learn to stop and play rather than get stopped by illness?
    Good luck, let me know what happens next,
    Lynn

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    September 28th, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    Maggie,
    Enduring misery is a tough way to live– how about consulting with a psychotherapist and seeing if you can create something more satisfying?
    You deserve it!
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Christine S.

    Christine S.

    October 18th, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    Hi Lynn. I am also a Yoga Therapist. I appreciate your article and suggestions about relaxation. I try to practice a lot of these things. I have recently joined a drumming circle and have discovered this is a profound way to relieve stress. It has helped to keep me in present moment awareness so I can be of more service to my students and clients. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    October 18th, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Hi Christine-
    Thanks for writing. I drumming circle sounds great!
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • sara

    sara

    April 5th, 2015 at 7:38 PM

    Playing my bass helps me forget about my stress. It all melts away.

  • Jessi

    Jessi

    April 6th, 2015 at 4:57 AM

    I journal, listen to music , meditate, and do yoga. Unfortunately, I’m the one who has a gene where stress is like Dominates.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    April 6th, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    Anybody besides me like to knit? Knitting is very calming.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • kim

    kim

    June 9th, 2015 at 6:39 PM

    I have 3 kids, 2 of them with special needs, a 3rd shift job.we are a low income family with no assistants. I also have a very controlling, living a &double life husband. That consistently accuses me of doing stuff I don’t. I have no support group what so ever.AS you can read I have a very stressful life. I would take other measures to changing my life, but there is no money left to do that. I’m looking for ways to dealing with stress and how to relieve it? Taking a journal is out of the question because he would find and read it. I’m open to any suggestions on how to relieve stress.please keep rude and hateful comments to yourself.

  • Patricia

    Patricia

    August 12th, 2015 at 6:25 PM

    Most cities , towns counties
    Offer counseling on a sliding cscale. Counselors can be helpful as they can serve as an objectional support.

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