We’ve all heard about anxiety: what causes it, what it does to us. But have you really thought about the stressors in your life? And have you developed healthy habits for managing stress?
Today’s article will provide you a brief history about how stress affects our brain and body and then give you practical choices for de-stressing and managing the stress that’s part of most everyone’s life. I remember being 9 years old and hearing Norman Vincent Peale say that’ the only people who don’t have problems (stress) are those lying at the cemetery’. Stress is an inherent part of life.
Our nervous systems are intended to keep us alive and safe. In cave men days, we might encounter a wild animal who was among our predators. We’re intended to’fight’ or’flee’ when a predator threatens us. In other words, our brains release neurochemicals that make us fast (so we could run away from the predator – flee) and strong (so we could fight and kill our predator). This explosion of’stress hormones’ as we now refer to them will be instantaneous, and then go away quickly as the need disappears.
Think of the adrenal rush you feel when you nearly have a car accident. You don’t need to consider releasing the adrenal gland, it happens automatically once you feel threatened by an oncoming vehicle. It makes you more alert and speeds up your response time so that you can safely avoid the accident. And then, it goes off very quickly after the episode and you relax.
In our society we rarely encounter real predators that threaten our lives. Instead we confront chronic’stressors’ that activate the same’fight or flight’ response that a predator could activate. And instead of going away quickly, the stress hormones remain high in our systems almost always. These same stress hormones that work so well to help us survive in a dangerous situation become a danger to our health when they remain chronically high.
Stress hormones are released when: you feel pressured by time, always in a hurry with too much to do; you have arguments with your spouse, children or your boss; you don’t have sufficient cash; you worry about your health; you are exposed to toxins in your food and environment; you get frustrated dealing with bureaucracy; you lay in bed at night (when you should be relaxed) with your ideas racing about all the things you will need to get done. Phew! It’s stressful merely to think about these things.
ACTION How to counter these ever present sources of stress in your life
You need to understand how important managing your anxiety is to your health and make it a priority. Recall being chronically stressed is deadly! Identify the sources of stress in your life. Look at the chronic stresses in particular that never get solved or that recur regularly.
Look for ways to change the stressful circumstances. By way of instance, if your job is extremely stressful, make adjustments that facilitate the stress, and speak with your boss about options for change. If this does not work, start searching for a less stressful job situation. Your life depends upon it.
Understand how you react to stress and to learn to manage your response. Do you feel overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, stressed, or hopeless? Different people will react differently to the same stressor. Some people become very angry at seemingly minor things while others never seem to get angry. Remember the name of Richard Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.
Pay attention to your own thoughts. Should you worry constantly, you will be in a continuous survival mode. Stress and anger release stress hormones. Learn how to manage your thoughts. Replace worry or negative thinking with calm, positive thoughts.
Learn and practice daily meditation. This calms the mind and the body and will help to reduce the level of stress hormones in the body. Many meditations focus on the breath. By regulating your breathing you indirectly regulate your stress hormones. It works!
Exercise regularly. Find an exercise that you enjoy and fit it in everyday. While you’re exercising, watch your thoughts. If you spend the entire time feeling angry about something and running it over and over in your head, you will negate a few of the benefits of the exercise.
Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Don’t try to do it all alone. When you discuss your feelings with someone else you’ll feel better. And they may have some excellent suggestions for helping you de-stress.
Get some help. Design your life so you are doing just those things that only you can do. For instance, if you’re in business, focus on serving your customers and attracting more clients and nothing else. Get an assistant to answer the telephone, manage your emails, do the bookkeeping, etc.. In the home, get some cleaning aid, use Stop and Shop Peapod to get your groceries delivered to your home, and hire someone to mow your yard. You get the idea.
Eat a healthy diet on a regular schedule. Don’t skip meals. Make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body has to handle stress. Eat organic foods whenever possible to reduce your toxic load. Eat only the calories you will use up daily.
Nurture yourself. Get a good night’s sleep. Relax in a hot bath or hot tub. Read a good book. Watch a favorite movie. Listen to some relaxing or cheerful music. Go out to dinner with a few friends. Play a game with your kids. Sing. Watch a fantastic comedian. Get outside and let nature rejuvenate you.
A therapist can help you understand yourself better and help you explore options for changing the stressful situation and how you react to stress. They will help you manage your thoughts and feelings.
Experiencing chronic pain is quite stressful and puts the body in survival mode. If necessary get expert help for pain control. Toughing it out may be more harmful than you think.
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback on brainwaves that teaches your mind to regulate itself better. It’s approved by the FDA for stress management. Read my next newsletter to find out how to’Change Your Mind’ so you aren’t stuck in a non-productive, stressful thinking pattern.