Stress is so common for so many people, yet it manifests itself differently in each person. Stress can cause tension headaches, muscle aches, stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, breakouts, chest pains, insomnia and anxiety. I have seen loved ones go to the ER because they thought they were having a heart attack, only for the Dr. to wave the clipboard, after multiple tests and many dollars later, and say, “It’s just stress.”
So, this stress can be intense enough to cause heart-attack like symptoms but it is dismissed like a common cold. If you want to get technical about it, and you know you do, stress directly effects the cortisol levels in our body. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to external or internal stressors. In some situations, it can be a good thing, as it is part of our “fight or flight” response, which allows us to react quickly and with increased levels of energy in emergency situations. However, most of us are not living in day to day true emergencies, but we are experiencing daily situations that cause us stress. When we are continually stressed, our cortisol levels stay high, never allowing the body to recoup. We end up living in a chronically stressed state–we are so use to it, we probably don’t even realize it!
Being victim of chronic stress and elevated levels of cortisol can wreak havoc on your body and mind. Chronically high levels of cortisol have been shown to impair brain function, suppress thyroid function, lower immunity, increase abdominal fat, and lead to fatigue. That doesn’t sound fun.
So, what’s the solution?
Well, we know that deadlines, house payments, bad drivers, aging parents and growing teenagers are not going away anytime soon, so we must find a way to cope with our stress. I am all for a martini or two to take the edge off but the suggestions below may help you lead to a more balanced and relaxed state of mind:
1. Breathe. Seriously, just breathe.
Yep, you heard me. Take a deep breath in for a count of 6, pause, and breathe out for a count of 6.
Now, close your eyes. Repeat the breathing set for 3 cycles.
The theory behind breathing exercises is that if we can control voluntary functions and get our bodies into a relaxed state, our involuntary system (nervous system) will follow suit. It is crazy enough that it just might work!
2. Yoga or other meditative forms of exercise.
Scheduling a yoga session for yourself has many benefits. It gives you an hour to yourself, for yourself. Most yoga instructors will walk you through breathing sets and will help you connect your breathe to movement. You will have the opportunity to work through a series of poses and flows that will help you stretch your muscles, increase your strength, and improve your tone. It is common to experience “mind chatter” in the first first minutes of class but the instructor will ask you to let go of that chatter and focus on what you are doing in the present moment. Yoga is a very non-competitive sport and it is a great place for an exercise newbie to start. You will leave the class feeling refreshed, rested, and energized.
You know, like we use to do before we sat in front of a computer all day. Get a beautiful journal, find a quiet space, and set aside time for yourself to do this. This is such a simple act but you will be amazed by the therapeutic effects. There is no rule to this–only to be diligent about putting something down on paper. The first few sentences are a bit awkward but once you start writing, your thoughts will flow without interruption. You will know when it is time to stop for the day and you will feel a sense of relief and calmness when you are done.
We must recognize where our stresses come from, acknowledge they are there, and respond in a calm, concise way. This is a life-long practice. You can’t change how you respond to your stresses all in one day, but you can start to become aware of how you respond and slowly start to take small steps to improve. Your body and mind will thank you in the long run.
If all else fails, take a deep breath and smile. Just the act of smiling will make you feel better.
What is your favorite way to de-stress? Leave a comment below.
Have a great week!