by Joyce Dillon, RN, MN, BCC
Antibiotics can’t touch it. The microscope can’t even spot it. It’s rapidly spreading and almost everyone is feeling its effect.
Stress is the hot word these days.
Most people seem to agree that these are highly pressured times. People complain of being burned out, used up and overloaded. Too many of us are just plain tired, overdosed on change, sick of ambiguity and uncertainty. And if today’s stress and tension aren’t enough to create problems, consider what the future holds: tomorrow promises us an even more complex world, a still faster rate of change, job pressure, noise and toxic pollution.
Stress negatively impacts our bodies’ ability to function normally. In the September 2015 issue of Newsweek magazine, recent studies report that stress weakens our immune system, increases our chances of heart disease and cancer, impairs our mood and performance, disturbs our sleep, contributes to sexual dysfunction, destroys relationships and generally makes us miserable. Granted, stress can be deadly and most of us do not escape the “grip of the tiger” but it doesn’t mean we are all doomed. There is good news: you can cope effectively and avoid these consequences. Here’s what you need to know:
Recognize Your “Triggers” and Switch Them Off!
Each person handles stress differently. Some people actually seek out situations which may appear stressful to others. A major life decision, such as changing careers or moving to another city, might be overwhelming for some people, while others may welcome the change.
Some find sitting in traffic too much to tolerate, while others take it in stride.
- The first step is to determine what triggers your stress responses. We all have specific situations that “push our buttons.” What are your triggers? Overworking, poor diet, too many responsibilities, having a long commute, noise, or limited time alone are a few common triggers.
- The second step to reduce stress is to recognize the particular way you experience stress. Do you respond to stress with any of these signals: Feeling depressed or edgy, having headaches or having trouble sleeping, blaming other people or resenting your responsibilities?
- The third step is to learn how to disempower or turn off the “fight or flight” reflex so that your body responds more reasonably and recovers more quickly.
It’s important to remember that you can learn to manage stress because stress is not caused by external events; it is caused by how you respond to stressful events. You do have options.
Seven Proven Stress – Busters That Work
Stress builds up throughout the day. However, there are many ways to slow down or interrupt the mind’s programmed response to stress. Any activity that allows you to relax and refocus your awareness instead of reacting to the situation will ultimately give you some recovery time.
Take 5-10 minutes to practice a stress-buster relief technique, so you can relieve pent-up anxiety and experience amazing beneficial outcomes. Many of these techniques can be done when tension strikes at your desk, in a meeting, in your car, at lunch, in the bank or sitting in the airport. So take a deep breath… and begin!
Tip 1 – Mindful Awareness of Your Thoughts
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is being aware moment by moment. It is a kind of awareness that is detached but present. As we become more aware of our actions and intentions we begin to notice our thoughts and emotions and how they are triggered.
Are you spending most of your day thinking about the past or the future? Pondering past mistakes or wondering about the future drains your energy and creates stress and worry.
Try to spend more time living in the “now,” the present moment of your life.
By practicing mindful awareness you can choose to be aware of what thoughts you are thinking and to “let go” of the unproductive dialogue that creates anxiety and stress.
Tip 2 – Breathe Deeply to Release Stress
To breathe is to be alive. You may be surprised to learn that there is more than one way to breathe or that focusing on how you breathe can help relieve stress. An awareness of your breathing pattern is a first step in altering the physical, emotional, and mental effects of stress on your body.
Breathe deeply in your abdomen, rather than taking shallow breaths in your chest. On the next inhalation imagine breathing directly into the tense area on your body.
Upon exhalation let the tension go with the air. With each breath, we nourish the body with oxygen, which is transferred from the lungs to the bloodstream and then is transported to every part of the body. The best thing about using this breathing technique is that you can do it anywhere and obtain immediate release. Breathing with awareness has several benefits:
- It helps release tension
- It energizes us
- It increases your awareness and relaxation
- It is easy and convenient – it can be done anywhere, anytime.
Tip 3 – Practice Meditation to Relax Body and Mind
Meditation, the art of stilling the mind, has been practiced for literally thousands of years. It is a remarkably straightforward technique that we can work into our daily lives with ease. Meditation is simply a means of creating calm in the mind.
Stop for a moment and become aware of your thoughts. Are they jumping all over the place? Meditation helps train the mind to filter out the unwanted chatter of everyday life, so both body and mind can fully relax.
Develop a regular 15-20 minute meditation practice. Sit quietly in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Focus on your breath; relax your chest and body. When your mind wanders and you find yourself lost in other thoughts, let the emotion or thoughts go and return your focus to your breathing. This practice works quickly to reduce stress and rebalance your body. Research on meditation shows that a 20-minute practice can:
- Reduce tension and promote relaxation
- Improve concentration and self-discipline
- Give a sense of improved well-being
Tip 4 – Visualization
You can significantly reduce stress with something enormously powerful: your imagination. Visualization is the forming of meaningful images in the mind: it is usually most effective when sitting or resting comfortably with your eyes closed.
Research indicates that the mind-body cannot distinguish between a vivid mental experience and an actual physical experience. It does not know if you are on the beach in Hawaii or visualizing being on that beach. The results can be the same – relaxation. Visualization is effective in treating many stress-related illnesses, including headaches, back pain, stomach tightness, and anxiety.
So breathe deeply and visualize scenes that you find restful – the beach, an art gallery, floating through clouds – anything that helps you slow down. Imagine that all your stress, illness or emotions are flowing out the bottom of your feet. Let the stress go and feel your body relax. Visualization is an effective tool to:
- Reduce tension and promote relaxation
- Manage stress-related conditions
- Create a safe and relaxed place in your mind
- Change old negative beliefs and patterns overloads
Tip 5 – Empower Yourself with Laughter
Laughter is one of the healthiest antidotes to stress. Consider this: four-year-olds laugh once every four minutes, while the average adult laughs about fifteen times a day. Laughing is powerful medicine for several reasons. Structurally, it releases tension in the muscles of your face, neck, shoulders and abdomen. When you are rocking with laughter, the motion literally massages your internal organs. Chemically, it elevates your mood by causing your brain to release endorphins that promote relaxation and which thereby can boost immunity. Medical studies have correlated having a good sense of humor with enjoying good physical and emotional health.
Recognizing the absurdity in some difficult situations can relieve feelings of powerlessness and restore hope. It’s a way to disconnect from negative overloads. We may not be able to control external events, but we can choose the way we handle them. The feeling of empowerment is a terrific stress-buster. Norman Cousins, in Anatomy of an Illness, describes how he used laughter to overcome a rare and painful illness.
Remember to laugh. Laughter reduces emotional and physical tension by producing positive internal messages. Laughing stimulates your circulatory, respiratory, and nervous system. When we laugh or even smile:
- Blood flow to the brain is increased
- Endorphins are released and levels of stress hormones drop
- We feel a release of tension and a sense of well-being
Tip 6 – Relax with a Massage
Massage is an excellent way to relax mind and body and bring relief from everyday stress and worry.
No one knows precisely how the kneading of flesh quells the stress response, but the effects can be dramatic.
Massage is effective for both physical and emotional stress related issues.
A regular body massage can enhance general health and vitality, coax tension from muscles, ease stiff joints, promote healthy circulation of the blood, and stimulate lymphatic drainage to encourage the elimination of waste from the body. Massage speeds the removal of metabolic waste products and can help alleviate muscular tension. It also stimulates the brain to release endorphins or natural painkillers, thus boosting your overall sense of well-being.
Almost any stress-related condition can be reduced by the use of frequent massage. Some of the most effective stress-reducing massages are neuromuscular, aromatherapy, and reflexology. These are particularly helpful for tension headaches, back and neck pain, and insomnia.
Many companies now offer full massage or chair massage in their wellness or health club. This is an easy way to work a stress-buster into your busy day. Massage is a terrific way to relax that has many benefits which include:
- Restoring a sense of calmness and balance
- Improving the brain’s oxygen supply
- Releasing tension from the muscles
Tip 7 – Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
Exercise is an essential part of the good health equation and is one of the simplest and most effective means of stress reduction. Vigorous physical exertion is the natural outlet for the body when it is in the “fight or flight” state of arousal.
Exercise returns your body to its normal equilibrium by releasing natural chemicals that build up during the stress response. Stress levels drop when you exercise, so you will come away from a workout or exercise class feeling a general lift in your mood.
Regular exercise can help control blood pressure and boost your immune system. As your blood circulates, it brings vital nutrients and oxygen to the cells and carries away waste products. Aerobic exercise increases your cellular need for oxygen. As a result, its many benefits include strengthening the heart muscle and speeding up detoxification. Aerobics promotes longevity.
The following exercise tips will help you boost your motivational levels to start exercising. Enlist the help of an expert to help you start on the right track. Ask your health club if they provide fitness assessments or personal-tailored programs specific to your health needs. Work out with a personal trainer to give you the boost to get going. There are many ways to exercise including aerobic activity, taking a walk, running or swimming. Try something new and fun, break your routine of exercise and try (NIA) or belly dancing. The key to exercising is to find the kind of activity you enjoy and that will fit into your lifestyle. Exercise has many benefits including:
- Relieves chronic muscle tension
- Speeds up detoxification
- Fights chronic fatigue and insomnia
- Provides relief from depression and anxiety
Getting Unstuck With Stress Busters
There are many proven mind-body techniques to reduce stress and tension. Essentially they provide alternatives to old stressful habits. Most of us have learned habitual thought patterns that create the experience of stress for us that are overreactions to events in our lives. Instead of responding in a way that floods the body with adrenaline, however, we can reframe the experience to make it not only less stressful, but also more accurate in reflecting what is really happening.
The seven stress-busters discussed to give you some of the best strategies to relax and learn to handle stress and heal yourself. Change might not always come easy. You may feel stuck in your old stressful habits but you can take simple steps that will empower you. All it takes is a plan, patience, persistence and time to learn to not engage the fierce “fight or flight” mode.
About the Author:
Joyce Dillon, RN, M.N, Founder/President of Joyce Dillon, Inc. is an internationally known life purpose, transition, creativity and personal development coach, writer, and trainer dedicated to empowering professional and entrepreneurial women to discover and live from their purpose.