“Stop the world, I want to get off!” How many times have you heard this sentiment expressed by family members, friends or co-workers? How often has stress taken the better part of you and held your emotional well-being hostage? Stress can do that, and unless you take the necessary steps to reduce its stranglehold on your ability to function, it can lead to a host of medical problems.
Stress is both a biological and psychological response one experiences when facing a threat. These perceived threats can come in many forms, from major life events such as the death of a family member to marital discord and daily events such as deadlines at work and hectic schedules.
Stress Left Unchecked Has Consequences
Stress symptoms can negatively impact the body, affect mood, and cause behavioral changes. Recognizing these symptoms when they occur will give all who encounter stressors a substantial edge in effectively managing their particular situations. Stress symptoms can manifest in the body, causing headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and even chest pain. The mood of a person can be affected by periods of anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, and depression.
Behaviors for some people change radically, with overeating or under-eating, social withdrawal, and drug or alcohol abuse being possible outcomes. Being aware of these symptoms and implementing the appropriate management tools will help prevent more serious health conditions.
In this complex world we live in, stressors are everywhere. Changes in the workplace, relationships, personal health, and increasing political turmoil in the world can take their toll. No one is exempt from stress. Employing positive, constructive techniques to counter stressors will help make the difficult changes more tolerable. A variety of stress-management techniques can help foster new resources and get people the help they need. It can be as simple as seeking out the support of friends or family over a cup of coffee or relaxing to a favorite piece of music. Other stress-management techniques require more practice, but the results will be well worth the effort.
It sounds too easy to be true, but taking a few moments to pay attention to how you are breathing can reduce stress. By focusing on your breathing and giving that process your complete attention, you can physically and mentally leave the stressors behind and become more relaxed. Focusing on the breath is simple, and requires nothing more than your effort and the willingness to do it. Here is a method often prescribed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a renowned teacher and writer on holistic health. It is called the 4-7-8 breath.
- Exhale through the mouth.
- Close the mouth and inhale through the nose for a count of four seconds.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds.
- Exhale totally through your mouth for eight seconds. This is considered one breath.
- Inhale again and repeat process three more times for a total of four breaths.
There are a variety of meditation techniques to explore, but they all aim to help the practitioner calm the mind and bring focus into the present moment. By being present in the moment, the mind is liberated from worrying about past events or feelings of anxiety about the future. In a meditative state, the mind is calmed, the body is allowed to actually heal itself, and transformation becomes possible.
The act of meditation promotes relaxation by clearing the mind of all the needless thoughts that create stress. By focusing attention on one particular object, an image, or reciting a mantra, meditation can induce a state of calmness which helps the whole body achieve greater health and well-being. Meditation is a practice that can be performed anywhere. It can be performed while sitting, standing, or lying down. The practice can be used walking to work, riding the bus, or even while at work or school.
Stress can also be reduced by regular exercise. Engaging in physical activity increases endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are chemicals that, among other things, create a natural high in the brain, inducing what might be described as a euphoric state of mind. Feelings of security and safety accompany the release of serotonin and dopamine which also occurs in the brain during exercise. Making exercise a part of your regular routine will not only gift your body with good health, but it will also help counteract the way the body reacts to daily stress that is often impossible to avoid.
It really doesn’t matter whether you can draw a straight line. It’s not the end result that matters. It’s the doing. Artistic expression can be an ideal outlet for people experiencing the ravages of stress. It provides stimulus and positive outcome. Whether you try your hand at painting, writing, or belting out a favorite song, the benefits of the experience will prove rewarding for your whole being. Learning and working in any art form requires focus and, much like meditation, brings the practitioner into the present moment. It also gives pleasure and the positive feelings that accompany personal accomplishment.
Being aware of how you feel and what foods you reach for when you are feeling stressed will make a big difference in your life. We all need to eat to sustain our bodies, but stress makes many people eat emotionally. Being aware of this tendency and stocking up on foods that can actually help reduce stress levels is a great strategy. Here are a few items you may want to include on your shopping list:
- Foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, can reduce the stress hormone cortisol levels in your brain and lower blood pressure after stressful encounters.
- Food items rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, trout, or nuts, are ideal foods that nurture the brain and the body. They also prevent the stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline from rising to high levels in the body.
- Spinach is full of magnesium that will help prevent fatigue and migraines.
- Turkey has a high amount of L-tryptophan, an amino acid that triggers the release of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that helps you feel good and promotes relaxation.
- McLeod, S. A. (2010). What is the Stress Response – Simply Psychology. Retrieved 15/09/2013 from http://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-biology.html
- Weil, Andrew M.D. Breathing: Three Exercises. Retrieved 16/09/2013 from http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00521/three-breathing-exercises.html
- Hupston, Fleur (2010, May 6). How Exercise Relieves Stress and Anxiety. Retrieved 17/09/2013 from http://www.naturalnews.com/028727_exercise_anxiety.html
- Eisenstein, Dorie. 10 Superfoods for Stress Relief. Retrieved 18/09/2013 from http://www.bhg.com/health-family/mind-body-spirit/natural-remedies/superfoods-for-stress-relief
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