Stress. You’ve got it. I’ve got it.
What exactly is stress? Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain with a primarily physical response. It’s your body’s way of responding to a threat or demand.
Sometimes stress is good for us- It can motivate us, help us focus, move us to action, and protect us. In times of emergency, it can save our life. But stress can be bad for us when it becomes overwhelming. With all the things we all have on our plates, we sometimes don't even realize how stressed we are in our day to day lives.
Do any of the following stress symptoms sound familiar? (These are just a handful of symptoms of stress and are signs that you are stressed):
Sleeping too little or too much
Eating too little or too much
Irritability or anger
Lack of energy
Feeling as though you could cry
Stress, when chronic, can result in anxiety, depression, sleep problems, heart problems, digestive problems, pain, and a depressed immune system. Chronic stress can decrease the ability to form new memories and recall others, increases the risk for ulcers, and impairs the formation of new cells, to name a few.
None of us deserve to live like this. If this is speaking to you, your stress can be managed and integrated into your life in a new and healthy way starting right now. Seriously.
Know Your Stressors
Knowing our sources of stress and how we react to stress in our lives is an essential first step to better navigating stress and learning to respond to it with greater intention. We all have ‘things that set us off’. Sometimes stressors can be removed from our lives, while other sources of stress cannot.
What causes you to experience stress?
In what ways does stress show up in your life?
How do you manage (or not) your stress?
Stress affects each of us in our own unique ways- physically, mentally, and emotionally. Knowing how stress manifests itself in your life is essential to finding balance, relief, and better managing your stress.
Be Here Now
Life is a series of moments. Sadly, we spend much of our time preoccupied with the past or distracted by the future. Our moments slip away from us all the time- because we are lost in thought, because of the rush of life, and then, before we know it, life begins to proceed at an increasingly exponential rate. Whether you work full-time, have children, or find yourself consumed with something- I’d venture to guess that some days life seems to pass you by. Have you ever been asked how your day was and what you did and discover that you draw a blank and aren't even sure? It is easy to not be present.
Instead of living in a frenzy or constant preoccupation, be intentional to ‘be here now’. Living life moment to moment means being present. It means to live the life right in front of you, right now. Be Here Now means to live in this moment- not moments that have passed, or moments that you’re speculating about and haven't lived yet. Being present and mindful of the given moment provides a calm, a stillness and a greater sense of peace and contentedness. Bear witness to life around you. Observe your surroundings, breathe deeply, let go of your thoughts, just be right where you are, right now.
Move Your Body
As Elle Woods said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
So true. Movement matters. Getting our blood flowing is a helpful way to combat stress as it helps us to feel better and be more energized, both of which help to manage stress. What matters most is that you move your body in some way every day. Find a workout routine that works for you, is realistic, and makes you feel good.
Breathing. It is essential. It allows our cells to be replenished with oxygen, which provides our bodies with energy. Our breath is our anchor. Our life-force. It is necessary for survival. It’s something we can do automatically without even thinking about it.
Learning to intentionally take a deep abdominal breath is life giving. Slowing down your breath and practicing diaphragmatic breathing promotes feelings of calmness and healing by oxygenating the brain and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Focusing on your breath provides an opportunity to be present and get out of your head and your thoughts. Intentionally breathing enables us to connect our mind and body. Wonderfully, breathing can be done anywhere and anytime, and it’s completely free and within your control. (To Read More See WholeSight's Breathe Well post)
Smile, Laugh and Relax
Say cheese! Hahaha! Aaaaaa.
The mind and body are deeply connected. Research shows improving body posture, laughing, and even smiling (even if you don't want to) elevates our mood. Try it. Take a breath, relax your body, sit or stand tall, open your heart, and smile. What do you notice? I bet you noticed a subtle shift inside yourself. Feel better? Embody the emotion and attitude you’d like to possess.
There is a reason it is said that laughter is the best medicine.
Nourish Your Body
When we nourish our body with healthy and fresh foods we become healthier and more energized to handle what comes our way. Be mindful of the foods you eat. Some foods to help beat stress include: asparagus, avocados, berries, almonds, oranges, spinach, and salmon, to name a few.
Did you know that humans are wired to be more predominately negative?
Mindfulness, meditation, and visualization are powerful ways to combat stress and override our brain’s natural negative tendency. In order to combat stress we’ve got to activate the body’s natural relaxation response which brings our nervous system into balance. When we are in a relaxed state our stress hormones fall, our immune systems are strengthened and we are triggering our parasympathetic ‘rest and restore’ response. This stillness is addicting.
As much as we can believe we can do it all, that is not the case and we will eventually reach a breaking point. Remove yourself from your circumstance for a bit. Treat yourself to a break. Maybe for you that means talking a walk, or getting away for a night or weekend alone. It’s possible a good break for you is going to a coffee shop and reading a book. Regardless, schedule a life break for yourself and enjoy being rejuvenated in the stillness.
Develop a gratitude practice
Acknowledging and appreciating the things we are grateful for is extremely beneficial. Intentionally practicing gratitude produces more positive emotions in people, enables people to extend more kindness and compassion, helps people to sleep better, and even boosts the immune system. All good things!
Developing a gratitude practice doesn't need to be overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to get started:
Commit to your gratitude practice
Find a gratitude system that works for you- Perhaps write what you’re grateful for in a journal, or write your gratitude statements on a sheet of paper and put them in a jar.
Set a realistic and successful time of day to acknowledge your gratitude
Begin- sit down and write it out
Share your gratitude with others if you are so inclined
Some days gratitude will pour out of you more easily than others. That is ok. If you find yourself having a day where nothing comes to mind for which you feel gratitude (again, that’s ok) simply pick a word or a phrase to write out instead- i.e. ‘gratitude’ or ‘I am grateful for my gratitude journal/jar’
Believe You Can
Reducing stress requires dedication, practice, and perseverance. Like anything else, if reducing your stress is important to you (or perhaps even necessary) it will happen. The great news about stress, sincerely, is that we can build up our tolerance to it and integrate our stress into our lives in healthy and productive ways.