We all sometimes talk about stress, and feel stressed, usually when we feel we have too much to do. Many a times, life itself can be stressful. But not all stress is bad.
We each function best and feel best at our own optimal level of physiological arousal. We need some stress to get everyday things done. Too little can lead to boredom, but too much can produce “burn out.”
Stress can have a variety of causes such as family problems, job problems, financial difficulties, poor health, or even the death of someone close to you. It is important to recognize the causes, take steps to deal with the root of the problem, and tackle the symptoms. Most importantly, don't battle stress alone — ask for help from a friend and, if necessary, a professional.
Health Risks of Stress
Heart disease – Stress can directly increase heart rate and blood flow, and causes the release of cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood stream. Sudden emotional stress can be a trigger for serious cardiac problems, including heart attacks. People who have chronic heart problems need to avoid acute stress and learn how to successfully manage life's unavoidable stresses as much as they can.
Asthma – Many studies have shown that stress can worsen asthma. Some evidence suggests that a parent's chronic stress might even increase the risk of developing asthma in their children.
Obesity – Excess fat in the belly seems to pose greater health risks than fat on the legs or hips, and unfortunately, that is just where people with high stress seem to store it.
Diabetes – Stress can worsen diabetes in two ways. First, it increases the likelihood of bad behaviors, such as unhealthy eating and excessive drinking. Second, stress seems to raise the glucose levels of people with type 2 diabetes directly.
Headaches – Stress is considered one of the most common triggers for headaches, not just tension headaches, but migraines as well.
Depression and anxiety – It is probably no surprise that chronic stress is connected with higher rates of depression and anxiety. Studies found that people who had stress related to their jobs had an 80% higher risk of developing depression within a few years than people with lower stress.
Gastrointestinal problems – Stress doesn't cause ulcers. However, it can make them worse. Stress is also a common factor in many other GI conditions, such as chronic heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Accelerated aging – There is actually evidence that stress can affect how you age. Researchers found that a particular region of the chromosomes showed the effects of accelerated aging. Stress seemed to accelerate aging about 9 to 17 additional years.
Managing Stress with Lifestyle Changes
Targeted exercise goes a long way toward freeing your body of stress hormones and increasing your endorphin levels, responsible for feelings of happiness. Walking for even 20-30 minutes each day is sufficient if that is all that you can afford. Swimming, hiking, and biking have been shown to reduce stress as well. A benefit of swimming and biking is that, opposed to jogging, they create far less joint strain, which makes them perfect for people with joint problems.
Get enough sleep
Give your body the sleep it wants, and your stress levels will take a nosedive. Sleep is a mechanism by which your body recuperates and restores its energy reserves. If you're not getting enough sleep, your body will use stress to keep you active and alert in the absence of stored energy.
Your body needs to be healthy, happy and properly fueled to help you tackle stress. Water has been shown to relieve stress. That is because a dehydrated body creates cortisol, a stress hormone. Start decreasing caffeine and alcohol intake. Eat a healthy breakfast and healthy snacks during the day. It is better to eat several smaller meals throughout the day than to consume three large meals.
Relaxing your body, by whatever natural means, is a great way to reduce stress. Think of something placid and tranquil, or think of nothing in particular. Let your body tell your mind that everything is okay. Listen to calm and soft music. Get a massage.
Yoga and meditation
Practicing the deep stretches and slow body movements will help you to clear your mind. Meditating while practicing gentle yoga will give double the relaxation effect to ease your stress.
Do things you love
Often when you're stressed, you can look at your schedule and see that you are lacking time for doing your favorite activities. Whether it is drawing, writing, reading, sports, or cooking, set aside time on a daily basis to do those things you enjoy.
Avoid negative thinking
Acknowledge the positive in your life and begin to re-establish some balance in your emotional register. Avoid focusing on only the bad things that happened during your day, but consider the good as well. Stop and count your blessings. Write down even the simplest things that you have and enjoy: a roof over your head, a bed to sleep on, quality food, warmth, security, good health, friends or family. Acknowledge that not everyone has these things.
Organize your life
Set goals for what you need to achieve, then write a "to do list." Taking control of your time and priorities will significantly decrease the amount of stress you feel. Know your limits. Be realistic about what you can and can't accomplish in a day. It is not helpful if you bite off more than you can chew and then castigate yourself for not getting it done. Do your most unpleasant or most difficult task at the beginning of the day when you are fresh, thereby avoiding the stress of last minute preparation. Procrastination feeds stress!
Emphasize quality in your work, rather than sheer quantity. Take pride in having done something well as opposed to having done a lot of something.
Develop a sense of humor
One of the barriers to stress reduction is the temptation to take things too seriously. It is okay to back off from your intensity and see the humor in life's situations. Laugh a little or better yet, laugh a lot. Learn to laugh at yourself. Don't put yourself down, or lash your self-esteem, but try to be playfully deprecating about yourself from time to time.
We experience stress as we adjust, readjust and live our lives. A relaxed easy attitude with an awareness that “nothing lasts forever” will really take the unwanted stress out of your life. EHC wishes you a stress-free healthy living.