Our bodies experience stress on a daily basis. Sometimes, that stress is good and can help us achieve certain goals in life, especially when they lead to feeling happiness, success or fulfillment. Usually, the stress is short lived and our bodies move out of the adrenaline releasing “fight or flight” state quickly without doing damage to our bodies.
Examples of good stress include:
- Work deadlines
- Giving a presentation or speech
- Taking a test
- Planning a wedding, party, or religious event
When we are exposed to ongoing stress, it gets in the way of our bodies being able to do the things that we want to do everyday. Our bodies remain in the “fight or flight” state for a long time and our bodies aren’t able to have periods of rest in between. When we are in this constant state, certain systems in our bodies – particularly the endocrine, reproductive, and digestive – are unable to return to their normal state and this puts us at risk for further health complications.
Examples of bad stress include:
- The death of a loved one
- Caring for a family member with ongoing illness or disability
- Repetitive deadlines at work with no breaks in between
- Ongoing relationship challenges
So, how exactly do we decrease our stress?
Tip 1: Focus on the things we can control and accept the things we can’t. As much as we’d like to, we can’t control Chicago rush hour traffic. We also can’t control our boss moving up a deadline or changing expectations at the last minute. Instead, develop strategies for dealing with the stress in the moment. Play your favorite music or listen to a Podcast. Safely make phone calls while waiting in line or sitting in traffic. Make a to-do list of the things you have direct responsibility for and work through the list. This includes delegating when appropriate.
Tip 2: Engage in Physical Activity. Exercising releases stress by altering the chemical makeup of our brains. It increases those feel good endorphins that help alleviate stress and can also help us sleep more soundly at night. We get an added bonus when we exercise outside because exposure to the sun helps with Vitamin D production, which may help combat symptoms of depression. Exercising can be as simple as going for a walk during lunch or as structured as a regimented exercise plan. Either way, any form of movement helps!
Tip 3: Practice Meditation or Relaxation Techniques. Teaching our bodies to get out of the “fight or flight” stage can be as simple as focusing on our physical state. Learning to relax by focusing on our breath and transporting our minds to a more pleasant place can help decrease stress in a matter of a few minutes. The great thing about meditation is that it can be performed anywhere and doesn’t require any special equipment. Some people also choose to incorporate acupuncture or massage into their practice as well.
Tip 4: Remind yourself to breathe. Have you ever noticed that you take shorter breaths when you are stressed? Breathing this way requires a lot of work and forces our bodies to work in overdrive. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try to count to four while you inhale and count to four again while you exhale. Try this a few times in a row, focusing on counting for each inhale and each exhale.
Tip 5: Help others. Finding time to help others, whether it’s at a soup kitchen, reading to a child, or visiting with those in need helps give us a new perspective on our own situation. This reality check may be all that is needed to remind us of all of the things we have and what we are grateful for. It also helps take our mind off of the things we are stressed out about, allowing our bodies to go back to its normal state.