Stress. It’s a part of everyone’s life. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, work or retired, we all experience it.
While we have a negative notion about stress, and for some of us, just hearing the word can cause stress, not all stress is bad. Stress pushes us to perform, whether it be physical and/or mental. It can sharpen our senses. Exercise is a form of physical stress; working our body in order to make it stronger. And there is nothing like a deadline to get us motivated or be otherwise productive. Without deadlines, it can be hard to get things done.
The problem is that not all stress is good for us. While a little bit of stress can boost our performance, too much can actually impair it. For some stress, such as work or school deadlines, the stress can be temporary and usually disappears once the deadline is met or has passed. But continual, or chronic stress, can be more problematic. Stress can increase our risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and early death among other poor health outcomes.
We can feel stress from all sorts of things. However, different people may have different stresses and different reactions. Christmas shopping may be a pleasure for some, but a stressor for others.
Our body responds to stress by getting revved up. It gives us a boost of adrenaline, getting our heart pumping faster and breathing quicker. In days of old, this was helpful when the best response to stress was either fight or flight. That boost of adrenaline was much needed.
Nowadays, unless you’re lining up for a 100 metre race, fighting or flighting isn’t an option. We can’t really run away from stress at work, or worse, get in a fight with our boss or colleagues. So we’re left to wait it out without a release. It’s that lack of release, and really lack of control, that creates stress that can impact our health. That being said, there are many things we can do that can reduce stress and prevent the negative impact on our health.
1. A Good Night’s Sleep
Ever wake up after a restless sleep? It seems like nothing can go right that day. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can make you feel invincible and ready to take on the world. When we’re tired and not well rested, even the simplest tasks can seem Herculean. Everything is harder and we usually don’t perform at our best. While there is a tendency to power through even when tired (some people see this as a badge of honour) we’re not doing ourselves any good. When we’re tired, our adrenaline is usually up, which makes us more susceptible to stress. Being rested improves our productivity, just like an elite athlete, getting sleep is important to our performance and will make things that seemed stressful the day before, much more manageable.
There are a whole host of benefits for your mental wellbeing that come from exercise. When it comes to stress, exercise will help you make use of that adrenaline circulating through your body. I’ve often had some of my best workouts when stressed. In addition, the release of serotonin and endorphins that occurs with exercise can make you feel even better. Doing an activity that gets your heart rate up is great, but even something at a lower intensity, such as a leisurely walk can help too.
The number of people taking time to meditate has increased over the years as people look to it to not only reduce stress but improve focus and even performance (athletes at all levels use meditation to get an edge). Meditation trains you to clear your mind of thoughts from the past, and worries of the future, to focus on the present. This may include focusing on your breathing. In doing so, meditation can bring clarity to your thinking that wasn’t there before and possibly reduce stress.
4. Take Control
Stress can often come from a sense of a lack of control over something in our life giving us a feeling of helplessness. Trying to find a way in which you can exert some control over the situation can be helpful. However, that may not always be possible. You may not have control over work deadlines, or that your teenager is taking your car out for the first time (hopefully with a license). In those cases, you may look to other aspects in your life to focus control over. Doing so can provide a solid foundation and also give you confidence that you are able to manage the challenges in life providing a positive outlook.
5. Smile and Laugh
It always feels good to laugh, that’s because it releases endorphins just like exercise does. Other physiological changes such as improved functioning of the arteries can also help to counter the effects of stress-related changes. Laughter has also been shown to reduce anxiety. Smiling too can help. Even a forced smile (created by holding chopsticks between the teeth) can result in more positive feelings when completing a stressful task compared to not smiling.
While a lot of us pride ourselves on being unique and an individual, none of us like to know that our problems are unique. I can’t imagine someone going to the doctor wanting to hear I’ve never seen that before. It’s more than just misery loves company. When things go wrong, we like to know that this is normal. We can only figure that out if we spend time with others and talking to them about their lives as we share ours. Spending time with people can make you happier and even hearing a familiar voice can lead to releases of oxytocin (the love hormone). Being with others in person is also better than through video or telephone as you’re also able to receive and provide physical contact which has numerous benefits like ensuring trust and feelings of belonging.
7. Start a Journal
My daughter calls this a worry book in which you write down the things that concern you. Most people do this just before they go to bed so they can dump all their worries from their mind onto the page. There’s something to do with writing about our worries and stresses that make them seem less significant. And it’s much better than bottling them up inside. An additional idea is to write down a few things that you enjoyed or are thankful for from that day. This can get you focusing on the positive aspects of your life. No matter how bad a day is, there is always some good that can be found in it.
All of these hacks have one thing in common in that they work to remove you from the source of stress and thoughts of that stress. Bringing some, or all, into your daily life can also help prevent the buildup of stress and make life’s challenges seem less challenging.