All stress created is not equal. We experience stress on a regular basis and how you perceive that stress affects your body’s physiological reaction to it.
What is a simple definition of stress? “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”
Stress is also our body’s innate ability to try and help in a situation. Even the ‘bad’ types of stress is an effort from our body to help. The key is focusing on what you can do to gain control and keep the responses in check so it doesn’t become chronic (constant; all the time).
Were you aware that chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of health issues? Heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, and accidents. Chronic stress can affect your brain, raise your blood pressure, and reduce your immunity and ability to heal.
At least 75% of doctor office visits are for stress-related complaints stemming from job stress. It’s a $1 trillion per year “under the radar” health epidemic according to Peter Schnall, author of Unhealthy Work.
The cost to treat those with chronic diseases (from stress) is about 75% of the national health expenditures per the CDC. Chronic diseases cause 7 out of 10 deaths each year — but are preventable and treatable.
Chronic stress not only affects the physical aspects of your life such as health or general energy level, but it can affect job performance and personal relationships. For this reason, every person needs a stress management strategy, a way to focus on personal empowerment and feelings of “loss of control” in check.
My experience dealing with cancer twice and a brain tumor diagnosis confirm that you can’t take anything for granted. It’s important to be there for my family, watch my kids grow up and thrive. This reality made me stop, take a step back and evaluate my life, intentions and overall goals.
Developing a stress management strategy was important. My curiosity also led me to become a certified health coach and health advocate for others.
Here are my recommended actions to help you change your perception and develop a stress management strategy:
Remember to Smile: A smile simply helps you enable the positive aspect of a situation. That optimism helps you cope better with a stressful moment. Smiling releases endorphins that can change your emotional response and speeds recovery when a stressful experience is over. Facial expressions really do affect your mood, emotional expression, and behavior. Wouldn’t you rather be caught smiling?
Get Up and Move: When you feel stressed, take a break and go for a walk outside to get some fresh air. Physical exercise helps stabilize stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. That movement boosts oxygen levels and your body makes the feel-good chemical, endorphins, as a result. Once you’ve exercised, you’ll find that it will be easier to implement the other stress management tips. Bonus: regular physical activity will improve the quality of your sleep.
Establish a Daily Relaxation Routine: Deep breathing is the fastest way to help you relax. We tend to have shallow breaths when stressed. Deep breathing adds oxygen to your bloodstream and helps clear the mind. I prefer the 4–7–8 Method. Sit up in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and place hands on top of your knees. Breathe in while counting to 4 slowly, expand your lungs fully; hold for 7 counts; then exhale out slowly while counting to 8. Repeat at least 3 times. Another simple method is to place a finger on the side of your left nostril and take 25 deep breaths (inhale and exhale slowly) through your right nostril. Repeat by switching sides.
Start a Meditation Practice: Meditation can take many forms and goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness. It’s one of the best tools to balance your emotions, deal with any physical and/or mental stress, and allows you to be present at the moment. To have a successful meditation practice, it needs to be simple and comfortable so that you will want to practice it every day and reap the intended results. There is no right or wrong — whatever works for you is the correct method. Ideally, you make time to connect with yourself daily, being mindful of your surroundings. There are guided meditations you can listen to. Many people like to just sit, breath deep and clear their minds right before bedtime. One of my favorite things to do is walk in the woods before dinner; connecting to nature has a calming effect on me.
It’s Okay to Say No: When you say yes to everything, it comes with a price. You increase the stress levels by trying to meet the extra demands on your time. There is only so much time in the day. Protect and manage the time you have and don’t feel guilty about it. Learning to say “no” to unimportant requests is not going to be a deal-breaker. How do you say “no” though? Make sure you are firm — yet polite — with your answer.
Get to Know Real Food: A healthy diet can help counter the effects of stress by boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Eating the right food can help tame stress in several ways. Eating comfort food — like a bowl of warm oatmeal — can boost serotonin levels, which is a brain chemical that calms you down. Other foods — like fruits and vegetables — help reduce the stress hormone levels of cortisol and adrenaline.
Embrace Your Relationship with Sleep: This is probably the most important thing you can do for yourself. Lack of sleep is a key cause of stress and can become a vicious cycle. Aim to go to bed around the same time each day so that your mind and body develop an expected routine. Don’t rely on sleep medication and maximize your relaxation practice right before you go to bed.
All the previous actions mentioned will actually affect your relationship with sleep in a positive way. Everything is connected.