“Oh, my God, I am so stressed out!” How many times a day do you hear that? How many times a day do you say it? Stress. You can’t escape it. Something or someone is always making you feel stressed out. Traffic. The job. The kids. The chores. The news. Money. Politics. You’re always running here or there, taking care of this or that and you can’t slow down. If you do, you’re surely get trampled. You’re assaulted with a steady stream of information and news 24/7. And, thanks to technology at your fingertips, you’re accessible any time, any place and you’re able to access just about anything. You can even work from just about anywhere. Your car. The beach. A cruise ship. It certainly makes things convenient, but even more stressful because you’re always in RECEIVE or DELIVER mode. A day off is rarely a day off anymore because you’re still plugged in. Answering your phone. Checking your email.
I am sure you’ve heard and read that stress is a real problem. Perhaps you’ve been told by your doctor that you need to learn to manage your stress. Lower your stress. Avoid stress. It’s more than a problem. Stress is a killer. Okay, but how exactly do you handle stress?
I’ll get to that, but first, let’s talk about stress and what it is. Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs your physical or mental equilibrium. When you have more stimulation than you can handle, it upsets the natural balance and flow of your body, mind and spirit and you begin to feel stressed. Some people are able to handle more stress than others, but most of us are dealing with more than we can handle most of the time. Stress is more than just a feeling of overwhelm or frustration. It causes an actual physical reaction. Your body begins to crank out hormones to help you react to the stress. This is why, when you’re feeling stressed, your heart often begins to race and you breathe faster or harder. Your face might turn red or you’ll begin to perspire. You might feel a sudden burst of energy. Maybe even such intense power that you could break through a cement wall if you had to. Ever feel the urge to run and keep on running when you’re super stressed? What about intense hunger? And, more often than not, all these physical and emotional reactions are followed by complete and utter exhaustion. Sound familiar? There are reasons for all this. Allow me to explain.
Your brain interprets stress as danger. It immediately kicks into survival mode and gives the command to send a blast of hormones surging though your body. Those hormones give you the strength and energy to either fight or run for your life. This is called the fight or flight response. Ever hear of someone experiencing super-human strength in a life-threatening situation? I have a friend who lifted a car to save her husband who’d been trapped beneath. Most normal people do not have the strength to lift a car, and especially not a tiny woman like my friend, but for a fleeting moment or two, she did. Her husband was being crushed and without hesitation, she was able to lift the front end of the car high enough for him to escape. Her fight or flight response hormones kicked in and she saved his life. We need those hormones to help us fight or run for our lives and our bodies also use them to keep functioning as we’re fighting or running. They help to regulate our body temperature. Blood pressure. Blood sugar. If not, we would just collapse due to system overload. Our brains would fry. Our hearts would explode. It really is quite amazing if you think about it. Our bodies are like incredible machines, but even the most powerful and well-built machine cannot continue to run in high gear without a break and certainly not without regular maintenance.
Our miraculous bodies were never created to handle a steady stream of those kinds of hormones on a continuous basis. In this day and age, with our crazy, busy lives, we’re experiencing more and more stress. The problem is our brain does not know the difference between real danger or if we’re just stressed because we’ve been sitting in traffic too long. The reaction is the same, either way. Those stress hormones start pumping. If and when you’re in real danger, you’re either running or fighting for your life and those hormones are put to good use. What happens if you aren’t actually in danger? That’s a problem. If you’re in a constant state of stress, those hormones are surging through your body. All. The. Time. Without an outlet (no fight or flight). Eventually you’ll begin to experience some side effects. Headaches or unexplained aches and pains. Chest pain. High blood pressure. Depression. Moodiness. Anger. Insomnia or fatigue. Some people lose their appetites, but most have an increase in appetite, gain weight and can’t seem to lose it. Fat doesn’t seem to want to budge.That’s because fat is a layer or a cushion of protection and if your body senses danger all the time, it’s not about to let go of that which protects it.
Could too much stress be the reason you can’t lose weight? Absolutely!
A steady flow of those stress hormones can also compromise your body’s ability to fight sickness and disease. It’s too busy concentrating on fighting or running, but it simply cannot battle everything at once. Stress forces your body to react in ways that are intended for emergencies only. Those side effects of stress I mentioned earlier? Those are warning signs that your body needs a break. If you refuse to heed those warnings (and most of us are so busy and so stressed that we don’t pay attention and we keep on pushing) eventually your body will break down, wear out, or give up.
This is why stress is a killer.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to avoid stress. It’s part of life. As long as there are jobs, traffic, bills, noise, people, and circumstances and situations you have to deal with daily, you are going to experience stress. You could quit your job, leave your family and friends, give away all your belongings, and go live on a mountain-top or in the woods far away from everything and everyone. But, even then, there are no guarantees that your life will be stress-free. Stress is unavoidable, but there are some things you can do to manage it. Daily practices can help you deal with it before you reach the point of feeling stressed out. Before your body begins cranking out those flight or fight hormones, which you now know are not good unless you are in real danger.
Here are 8 ways to help manage the stress in your life. Keep in mind, these aren’t miracle cures. They’re daily practices. Maintenance. If you’re consistent, over time, you will begin to feel better and less stressed.
At least eight hours, 7 nights a week. Sleep is essential. Your body and your mind needs to shut down for several, uninterrupted hours every night to recover from the hectic, stressful day. Most people are so sleep deprived. And here’s the thing. You can’t ever catch up on lost sleep, no matter how late you stay in bed on the weekends. Try to make a habit of going to bed at the same time every night. Practice evening rituals that help you unwind and promote rest and relaxation before you climb into bed. It will be easier to fall asleep faster that way. Create a peaceful environment in your bedroom. Turn off the TV and leave your cell phone in another room. Buy the most comfortable and luxurious pillows and bed linens you can afford. Unless you have limited space, don’t make your bedroom an extension of your office. Never operate your business from there. Find another corner of your home for work. Your bedroom should be your haven – quiet, comfortable, inviting and stress, worry and clutter-free.
Daily exercise is one of the best ways to manage and relieve stress. In addition to the obvious physical benefits of regular exercise, it also causes your body to release feel good endorphins – calming, uplifting, cooling tonics to your body, mind and spirit. Join a gym. Try kickboxing, yoga, a dance class. Go for a run, take a walk, have sex, lift weights, work out at home to an exercise DVD or a routine you find online. No need to exercise for hours a day. You probably don’t have time for that, but you can certainly spare 15-20 minutes a day to get your blood flowing and your body moving.
You know I was going to talk about food. Nourish your body with good, healthy food — lean protein, whole grains, lots of fruit and fresh veggies. Avoid processed and fast foods and especially white flour and white sugar. Say no to bagels, donuts, cookies, cake, candy. They might taste good, but those kinds of foods cause your blood sugar levels to drastically rise and fall which makes you feel tired, grouchy, foggy and even more stressed. Make time for meals. Sit down and enjoy your food. Eat breakfast at home rather than in the car on your way to the office. Take an actual lunch break instead of eating at your desk as you work. Make dinnertime pleasurable. Light candles, set the table, turn off the TV and listen to music. Slowly sip a glass of wine or sparkling water and enjoy some meaningful conversation with your family. If you live alone, savor the much needed peace and quiet. Don’t chat on the phone as you eat. It’s so much better for your digestion and you’ll probably eat less if you off the noise and other distractions during mealtimes.
Try not use food as stress relief. If you eat when you’re stressed, more often than not, you’ll indulge in much more than you want or need. And you’ll probably gravitate toward less than healthy food choices. It’s easy to polish off an entire bag of potato chips, a big box of candy or a whole container of ice cream when you’re stressed and you don’t even realize how much you’re eating until every last crumb or spoonful is gone. Stress eating is mindless eating. You’re not paying attention to what or how much you’re putting into your mouth. That eventually leads to weight gain which causes even more stress. Try to replace food with something else – something good for your body, mind or spirit. A cup of tea. A walk. A soak in the tub. A relaxation or breathing technique. Anything that makes you feel calm and relaxed. Anything other than food.
Keep a journal.
Keeping a journal was a life-saver for me during a particularly difficult and stressful time in my life. I wrote down my frustrations. I found the process of expressing it all on paper extremely helpful and healing. It also kept me from constantly talking about my problems or lashing out in anger or frustration and hurting the people I love. I was writing out my emotions so I didn’t need to keep verbalizing what I was feeling over and over. Keeping a journal became a daily habit for me. I regularly write down my hopes, dreams, goals and my fears, frustrations, faults and failures. I am always amazed when go back and look at my past writings to see how many seemingly impossible situations and problems I’ve managed to overcome and how much I’ve grown over time.
Talk it Out.
Everyone needs a confidant. A partner, a best friend – someone you can share anything with and not hold back. Find one one person with whom you can be completely honest. Somebody you trust as a source of help, advice, ideas and encouragement. Sometimes, you just need to talk to somebody! You don’t want to dump all your problems on others, but very often talking about your fears, faults, failures, concerns and the things that are stressing you out makes you feel better. Having someone in your life who can identify with you, support you and possibly help to alleviate your stress or point you in the right direction can work wonders. If you can’t find someone to talk to, see a therapist or hire a coach.
When was the last time you had some good, clean fun? Remember how you couldn’t wait to get outside and play as a child? School work, chores, and all your troubles were soon forgotten the moment you hopped on your bike, joined in a baseball game with friends, or just sat in your room and played with your favorite toys or games. Play is the greatest escape! Take up a hobby, go bike riding, join a ball team, go out dancing, bowling, hiking! Get out there and play!
Nourish Your Spirit.
How you choose to nourish your spirit is most important when it comes to managing stress, but often the most neglected or ignored. You are a spiritual being in a physical body. Make time every day to pray, meditate, listen to music, and read articles and books that inspire you. Get out in nature and just breathe, Go to church, temple or any place that calms your spirit. Take a break from TV and the radio. Limit your time on the internet and especially social networking sites. Or at least be more selective in what you see and hear. Choose programs and radio stations that are pleasant. Uplifting. Joyful. Soothing. There’s so much tragedy, bad news, suffering, sorrow and ugliness in this world. You don’t need to keep seeing, reading or hearing it over and over.
The unfollow and unfriend options on Facebook? Best tools ever! Use them to control what appears in your news feed. Pages, groups and people constantly promoting fear, anger, bitterness, bad news, political angst, hopelessness? They are toxic to your spirit and cause unbelievable stress that most people don’t even realize. You have the power to turn it off with a simple tap of your finger. I am not suggesting you pull the covers over your head and ignore what’s going on around you and in the world. Choose a reliable, unbiased news source and stay informed. Send your prayers, love and healing energy out in the direction where it’s needed. And then, try as best you can, to let it go. The fear. The sorrow. The anger. The hopelessness. Worrying and stressing will not change a thing. If you truly want change, roll up your sleeves and take action. Donate your time, your talent or your funds to worthy causes, organizations and charities that are actually working to resolve the issues and problems in your community, the nation and around the world. Just be sure to do your research and don’t take on so much personal responsibility that it sucks up all your time, energy or resources. Start off small and simple – focus on a particular issue, cause or need that speaks directly to your heart and go fill it.
Last, but not least, don’t stress over stress!
The worst thing you can do is keep reminding yourself and everyone else how stressed you are. The more you talk about it, the more you believe it, and the more stressed you become. And stress is contagious. Not like a disease, but spend time with super stressful person and very often you’ll begin to feel stressed out, too. Just from being in their company. Don’t be that person. Pay attention to own self-talk and the negative chatter in your head. Your mind will believe anything you tell it and interpret it as truth. Keep reminding yourself that you are strong, capable and you have everything within you to handle whatever comes your way. Trust God and the Universe. Trust yourself.
This is how you cultivate inner peace and develop true strength to weather the stressful storms of life.