Updated: May 7, 2019
By Heather Jo Harper
Tight chest, strained breathing, headaches, high blood pressure, digestive issues…the list of symptoms is endless. Stress-related issues can result in up to 75-90% of visits to primary care physicians (1). We are bombarded with stress and it can be difficult to quantify how much stress is impacting us on a daily basis. We experience busy traffic, a rude co-worker, waiting in line at a store, and the more extreme sources like losing a loved one, sickness, betrayal, and trauma. The effects of stress may negatively impact our health to a severe degree, but there are many resources that can strengthen our bodies against this barrage of anxiety.
Experiencing a higher level of stress affects our bodies in many ways. Dr. Amen, a well-known physician and psychiatrist, helps patients heal their brain and live healthier lifestyles. In an article on www.amenclinics.com, he lists some of the many ways this chronic stress can impact our health. “Chronic exposure to high levels of stress hormones has been associated with countless problems that make us unhappy, such as increased appetite, sugar and fat cravings, and abdominal obesity. Additionally, long-term exposure to high levels of stress hormones has been associated with:
Elevated cholesterol levels
Heart disease and hypertension
Increased risk for strokes
Reduced immune system function” (2)
The continual ‘fight or flight’ response stress induces in us may also contribute to Adrenal Fatigue and issues with the thyroid. Hormones work in a symbiotic relationship, meaning when one is elevated, it may cause others to increase or decrease. When this happens too often, our system can become depleted.
The good news is we are not stuck or helpless. There is hope and effective strategies to counteract stress in our lives and enjoy a healthier and more peaceful life.
10 Steps to Destress
1) TALK to a friend or family member who is supportive and nonjudgmental. Talking through our stress often lightens the load and helps us to let things go. Be cautious to vent and then brainstorm some positive steps that will help lessen the stress impact. If there is trauma or a situation that requires extended support, consider seeking wisdom from a licensed counselor who is trained in walking clients through these circumstances.
2) TAKE CARE of you. In general, we can often take care of others better than ourselves. Working out, getting a massage, and taking a walk in nature are a few ways we can choose to help ourselves deal with stress and relax. We live in a fast paced world and we need to rest our minds and central nervous system. Our bodies are not designed to always “be on”. Shutting down in specific ways allows us to restore, refresh, and think more clearly.
3) NATURE is soothing. It gives us a pause button to push and breathe. Blood pressures can drop as we watch birds splashing in the water. Our stress dissipates as we surround ourselves with a leafy green tree canopy or expansive mountain vista. Nature does something for our soul; the sounds, the air, the birds singing. Go rest or hike in nature and feel the healing qualities that can restore you.
4) EXERCISE has helped people maintain a healthy weight, strong heart and lungs, and a more joyful disposition. For some the word “exercise” has a bad connotation. I love the word “Activity”. I often tell my clients to find activities that they enjoy. Do you like to hike in nature, walk your dog to start the day, swim, kayak, stretch and build muscle with yoga? Start with one activity that is manageable, add a friend or some music and exercise can feel like a adventurous memory.
5) HOBBIES bring contentment, a sense of accomplishment, and may lower the impacts of stress on our bodies. Some people love to sew, build something, design, do something active, or even work with others on a project. We may need to find a hobby by searching for a class we can take or joining a friend in something they enjoy doing. Being creative or being active both have amazing benefits for our hearts, minds, and bodies.
6) GIVE GRACE…to ourselves and others. We can hold ourselves or others to standards that are not reasonable. Letting things go sometimes takes time. Sometimes we need to tell ourselves we are releasing a situation several days or weeks or months in a row, but it fades and true forgiveness can be found.
7) SLEEP. Nap or go to sleep at an earlier time. Yes, we may miss something, but we will be more equipped to handle all of the responsibilities and challenges we face on a daily basis. The statistics on sleep are amazing. We will expand on this topic in an upcoming blog post.
8) SILENCE. Turn the tv off more often. TV can cause us stress. We watch tense shows, observe tragedy around the globe, see numerous products that will help our lives be better, and too perfect humans that can leave us feeling like we do not measure up. Time in front of the TV can also prevent us from connecting to those we love the most as well.
9) DON’T COMPARE. “Compare and Despair”. With the growth of social media and instant access to what everyone is doing (or saying they are doing), we can be overwhelmed by information and also the temptation to compare our lives to other’s status updates. Most people do not pour out all their stress and troubles on social media. We usually share the bright and shiny moments, the humorous, the kids or the dogs or the gerbils doing tricks. We cannot compare ourselves to the unknown.
10) SAY NO. Boundaries? Does that make someone inflexible or unhelpful? No! If we are honest, there are just too many options in life and we need to decide what is most important. We can say no in a polite way and no today may be a yes in the future. Protect what is valuable, time. At times we say no to one option and something better for us comes along in time. In the end, we all have to say no at some points. Giving yourself permission can be freeing and reduce that nasty state called STRESS.
Bonus!!! Breathe. Take a moment and breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and exhale for 4 counts. There are many relaxing breathing techniques, but this is easy to remember and is great to teach our children as we all need a moment for our mind to catch up with our emotions.