Life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For many people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.
The Basics about Stress
Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever-increasing demands of life. Studies show that most Americans experience challenges with stress at some point during the year.
Your brain is pre-wired with an alarm system for protection. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones to fuel your capacity for a response. This has been labeled the “fight-or-flight” response.
Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop stress of modern life means that your alarm system rarely shuts off.
That’s why stress management is so important. Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset your alarm system.
Without stress management, your body will remain on high alert. Over time, high levels of stress lead to serious health problems.
What can I do to manage my stress?
The first step is to learn to recognize when you’re feeling stressed. Early warning signs of stress include tension in your shoulders and neck, or clenching your hands into fists.
The next step is to choose a way to deal with your stress. One way is to avoid the event or thing that leads to your stress–but often this is not possible. A second way is to change how you react to stress. This is often the more practical way.
Relaxation techniques are an essential part of stress management. Relaxation is vital for maintaining your health and well-being, and repairing the toll that stress takes on your mind and body. Almost everyone can benefit from learning relaxation techniques. Stress relievers can help restore calm and serenity to your chaotic life. You don’t have to invest a lot of time or thought into stress relievers. If your stress is getting out of control and you need quick relief, try one (or more) of these tips:
1. Get active
Virtually any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Exercise is a good way to deal with stress because it’s a healthy way to relieve your pent-up energy and tension. Exercise is known to release feel-good brain chemicals (endorphins) which help you to reduce stress and ultimately relax.
2. Try Yoga or Tai Chi
The series of movements, postures and controlled-breathing exercises, make both yoga and tai chi very popular stress relievers. Yoga and tai chi bring together the physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind, helping you relax and manage stress and anxiety.
3. Keep a Journal
Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a good way to release your “pent-up” emotions. Write whatever comes to mind. No one else needs to read it, so don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling. Just let your thoughts flow on paper (or on your computer screen). Once you’re done, you can toss out what you wrote or save it to reflect on later. A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. You will begin to see patterns and common themes.
4. Get Musical
Listening to or playing music is a good stress reliever because it provides a mental distraction, reduces muscle tension and decreases stress hormones. Crank up the volume and let your mind be absorbed by the music.
5. Laugh More
A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but it can help you feel better, even if you have to force a fake laugh through your grumpiness. When you laugh, it not only lightens your mental load but also causes positive physical changes in your body. So tell some jokes, watch a comedy or hang out with your funny friends.
6. Set Aside Relaxation Time
Relaxation techniques such as meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response.
7. Get plenty of sleep
Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool by getting a good 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Is stress making you frustrated and irritable? Don’t wait until stress has a negative impact on your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing some of these stress management techniques today. If you want more help treating stress symptoms, ask your family doctor for advice. Don’t let stress hijack your life!
Learn more ways to manage your stress at mayoclinic.org