Less stress, more calm

posted in: Mindfulness | 0

April is Stress Awareness Month and each year I like to share a bit about the causes of stress as well as ways to reduce stress.

For most of us, when we think of stress, we think of those times when we feel overwhelmed by too much bad stuff going on in our lives. It might be interesting to note however, that there is such a thing as good stress. Eustress, as it’s known, is that positive, exciting form of stress you get in reaction to something exciting, like getting to the top of Half Dome, or getting an unexpected check in the mail, or competing in sports.

Today I want to give you some coping skills for dealing with stress, so we’ll be talking about the bad kind – both acute (short term) or chronic stress that can, over time, lead to serious health issues.

Causes of Stress

Stress can come from many sources, and there are the big five life situations that are the most common causes of stress:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Moving
  • Major illness or injury
  • Job loss

In addition, there are those day-to-day stressors that can accumulate over time. Evolutionarily speaking, our bodies reacted to real stress by releasing stress hormones. These hormones told our bodies to switch to fight, flight or freeze mode. Once we were in a safe place, stress hormones returned to a normal level.

Today, many of us are in a constant state of stress, and you know what I mean. There are constant threats to our health, our feeling of safety and well-being, or our ability to care for our families. These days, we don’t respond as we did in times past, so we stay reactive. Our bodies are constantly being flooded with those stress hormones.

Effects of Stress

So many of today’s ailments can be traced back to stress. If fact, stress even reduces your immune response. Now, that said, we all react to stress differently, so it’s important to understand how it affects you. That way, if you are experiencing a headache and you know that’s your body’s normal response to stress, you can perhaps alleviate the headache by managing the stress.

Stress can show up in many different way including but not limited to: digestive issues, inflammation (and all the associated diseases), immune system suppression, sleep disorders and anxiety. It’s important to work closely with your medical doctor, preferably one who is open to a comprehensive stress management plan that includes alternative practices.

Effective Stress Management

Since we can’t eliminate all stress from our lives, the idea here is to eliminate unnecessary stress, and then effectively manage the rest. Stress can be effectively managed in many different ways. The best stress management plans usually include a mix of stress relievers that address stress physically and psychologically, and help to develop resilience and coping skills.

Quick stress relievers like breathing exercises, for example, can help calm the body’s physiology once the stress response is triggered. Long-term healthy habits like exercise or meditation can help to promote resilience toward stressors.

Discovering a wide variety of stress management techniques, and then choosing a mix that fits your needs, can be a key strategy for effective stress relief. Here is my list of ten ways to shrug off stress:

Meditation provides relief from stress. One way it does this is by reducing the amount of cortisol and adrenaline, the “flight or fight” hormones produced by the brain. Body scanning meditation can be especially effective.

Just getting your thoughts out on paper helps to clear your mind, thus leading to less stress about the past and/or the future.

Take up a hobby
Hobbies can provide a nice distraction from stress. Coloring books are great fun. Gardening can also act as a stress reliever and is good exercise.

Practice Yoga regularly
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline that is effective in relieving stress. Find a teacher that you connect with and that teaches the type of yoga that speaks to you.

Your breath is a convenient and simple way to reduce short-term stress. Next time you’re annoyed, just take a few moments for some nice deep belly breaths.

Hang out with friends
Just hanging out with friends can take your mind off your stressors for a bit. Social connections are one of the most effective ways to increase your happiness, thus reducing stress.

The physical act of laughing releases tension and brings positive physiological changes. So, go ahead, watch that silly kitten video on YouTube!

Get out in nature
If you spend too much time at your desk, taking a walk in nature allows you a change in scenery, and it gets you moving. Exercise is another form of stress release.

Listen to Music
“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak.” Yes, it’s that powerful.

Try Aromatherapy
Rosemary, lavender, ylang-ylang and lemon have all been shown to reduce stress. There are others and if you’re interested, there are many well-written books on the benefits of aromatherapy.

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