In this article from our Stress-Busters 2018 series, we want to help you identify the possible causes of stress and how stress affects the body. We'll also offer 12 easy, and somewhat unique things that will help you bounce back from stressful conditions faster.
Our culture, environment, responsibilities and relationships trigger a variety of emotional responses, but none is more subversive than stress. Sitting in a traffic jam on the highway watching the minutes tick past an important appointment will cause stress. Watching a thriller at the movies with cliffhanging storylines will cause stress.
The human body, through centuries of evolution, has relied upon a built-in system that helps us respond to stress, fear or other conditions that may cause harm to the body. But in today's culture, stress doesn't merely come from a marauding tribe or a tiger in the bushes: it comes from daily life in what we call, "Modern Society."
According to WebMD, leading triggers of stress include:
- Being unhappy in your job
- Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
- Working long hours
- Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
- Working under dangerous conditions
- Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
- Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
- Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn't supportive
- The death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Increase in financial obligations
- Getting married
- Moving to a new home
- Chronic illness or injury
- Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
- Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
- Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one
- Fear and uncertainty
- Attitudes and perceptions that skew how you perceive
- Unrealistic expectations
- Change of any kind
How Stress Affects Your Body
In the body, the central nervous system controls the "fight or flight" response, and is triggered by the hypothalamus in your brain. It signals your adrenal glands (see diagram) to secrete adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is a hormone which increases breathing, heart rate, blood circulation and metabolism as it prepares the body for exertion. Cortisol is also a hormone secreted by the adrenals, but has a different role in the biochemistry of the body. It provides glucose by accessing protein stores via gluconeogenesis in the liver. When cortisol levels remain high (meaning there is more continuous glucose in the blood) due to prolonged exposure to stressful conditions, it can take a toll on a variety of bodily functions.
Short-term stress will surface these general symptoms:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Upset stomach
However, prolonged stress can manifest in these chronic conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heartburn, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome
- Upset stomach—cramps, constipation, and diarrhea
- Weight gain or loss
- Changes in sex drive
- Fertility problems
- Flare-ups of asthma or arthritis
- Skin problems such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis
As you can see, just reading these lists can make you stress out. Our goal is to help you recognize when you are experiencing conditions that cause stress in your life and to give you tools to manage or eliminate the symptoms of stress.
Think outside the stress-box
Once you've realized you need stress management or you've been diagnosed by your doctor that you need to adopt a stress management program, it's time to be in action and take better care of your body. But what if you don't want to "manage your stress" and do some of the recommended practices? Well, here is a list of 12 easy, fun and a little bit "out of the box" practices to help you better manage the stressors in life.
You'd be surprised at the multi-faceted benefits of a daily yoga routine. Not only will it help your stress levels, but your body will be more flexible and ache less, you'll sleep better and have more energy. There are many different types of yoga to practice, whether you take a class at your local gym or YMCA or if you roll out your mat at home to a YouTube® video. Regular yoga practice can center your mind and heal your body from stress.
Like yoga, there are a variety of different types of meditation practice. The simplest explanation is that meditation is the quieting of the mind and body. To learn about the types of meditation practices and how you can get started at home, do a little research online. If you have a friend who has practiced meditation, ask them for suggestions. Read a book on meditation, hit the local spiritual book store and see if they have an instructor who can work with you to get you started. Again, with regular practice comes the highest benefit from meditation. It can also reduce high blood pressure, calm your nerves and enable you to maintain a calmness and peace about your life and everything going on. It can also have a spiritual component as well.
Who would have thought that opening a notebook and writing would reduce stress? But it does. Keeping a journal and writing in it daily can be a form of meditation. It allows you to "vent" in a healthy way that's not hurtful to others and release pent up emotions that may be causing stress. Make it fun; pick out a journal that feels right to you. Use your favorite pen. Cozy up with your favorite beverage in a favorite spot at home and journal your heart away. Notice how much better you feel afterward.
This is pretty simple: laugh. Hit a comedy club. Rent a comedy and grab some popcorn. Hang out with one of your funniest friends. Write about a funny memory. There is scientific fact that laughter and levity creates longevity and healing. The saying is true, "Laughter is the best medicine."
It doesn't matter how coordinated or uncoordinated you are, movement to music is a great way to relieve stress and burn some calories. Put on your favorite dance music and dance around your office or bedroom for a song or two a few times a week. Let your body go wild and just let go.
6. Game time
Life was simpler when we were kids, wasn't it? Well, who says you can't whip out your favorite board or card game and play a few games you loved as a kid? Get your family or friends involved and have a spur-of-the-moment game night. Order some pizza, put on some good music and let the dice roll. Make it a regular activity to try different games and get your peeps together for some fun and togetherness.
7. Be a friend
We may have a lot on our mind, but nothing gets our mind off of our own troubles faster than helping someone out. Whether you just lend an ear to a friend in need or you pay extra attention to a neighbor or relative who may be going through a tough time, being that shoulder to lean on can do wonders for healing your own heart and relieving stress.
8. Get dirty
Our lives are filled with a lot of technology. We move from wired homes to high-tech cars to fluorescent-lit offices that hum of electromagnetic frequencies and back again. Environmental stressors can also take a toll on our health, so it's wise to turn off the TV and head outside. Plant a garden, a tree, herbs or your favorite flowers. Working your hands in the soil—not to mention the benefit from the physical labor associated with working in the yard—can be a huge reliever of stress. And just think of all of the bounty you'll get to enjoy throughout the season!
9. Cook fresh
We live in a fast-food, frozen food, prepared foods, easy-to-cook meals society, mainly because we don't have time to cook or we don't know how to cook. However, preparing a fresh meal with ingredients that aren't necessarily from a box or a plastic-topped microwavable container can be a relaxing, de-stressing experience. And, you'll be caring for yourself (and your family if you're cooking for more than yourself) in a very thoughtful way.
You may have heard about the power of gratitude, prayer and appreciation. Take a moment to sit down with your journal and write about everything you appreciate in your life at that moment. You'll quickly realize how great things are and how much good there is in your life. That will shift the focus from what is worrying you to what makes you happiest and most grateful.
Like any form of exercise, healthy, responsible sex is a great way to relieve stress. Enough said.
12. Spa it up
If you're able to splurge a little, treat yourself to a spa day. Get a couples massage, facial, mani-pedi, whatever treat that helps you relax and feel spoiled. You're special and you do deserve it! Watch the stress melt away.
Here are a few other ideas to de-stress your life:
- Planning and getting in action to solve a problem
- Learn a new skill or language
- Teaching/being a mentor
- Join a Meetup group
- Get into a bowling league/golf league or just join a league/group for social engagement
- Read a good self-help book on belief systems and overcoming worry
- Make a list of your accomplishments so far
- Make a fun, simple bucket list of easy stuff (that doesn't cost you a lot of money) and go ahead and do them
- Take a break from Facebook (or the online space you spend the most time in) for a month
- Take a break from (or eliminate altogether) toxic people