Comprehensive Stress Management: What It Is, How To Do It, and Why It Will Change YOUR Life!
What does it mean to be healthy? What does a healthy person do? Often the first things that come to mind are doing things like eating a nutritious diet, exercising, and avoiding tobacco.
It is well known that a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking or using other unhealthy substances can increase your risk of chronic disease, zap your energy, and make you feel less than great on a daily basis. However, there is one additional area of health that is crucial to a healthy lifestyle that most people hear about regularly but really have little understanding of: stress management. Poor stress management is as much a risk factor for chronic disease and poor quality of life as a bad diet, being sedentary, and smoking are.
First, let’s talk a little bit about what stress actually is. Our bodies have a stress response when we feel worried or unsafe. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream, and a cascade of physical and mental changes take place including an increased heart rate, raised blood sugar, quickened thoughts, and tense muscles that are ready to fight, freeze or run. After the threat is passed, our bodies are designed to return to a state of homeostasis, and focus on repairing, digesting, and resting.
Stress worked great for our ancestors; it kicked in just when they needed to run or fight off a predator, or do some other physically hard thing to increase their chances of survival, such as bringing the harvest in before a storm. However, this ancient feature of the human body is not as well matched for our modern day life of sitting in front of computer screens, having our food delivered to our front door on demand, and deadlines and busy schedules. Because of our lifestyles and cultural norms, most people are experiencing high amounts of stress on a daily basis. Our bodies were never designed to have a stress response so frequently or be in a state of chronic stress. Stress affects us psychologically and physically in many, many ways. It is a leading cause of many things, including the following:
What’s amazing is that when you target this ONE thing, your personal stress management, you can see improvements in MANY areas of your health and your life!
So how can you effectively manage stress?
First it’s important to understand that a stress response only happens when you think a stressful thought. Which is great news, because that means we have a great deal of control over it! For our ancestors it might have been thoughts about legitimate dangers, such as an approaching predator. In our modern day life it is pretty rare that we are actually in danger. But, we have been culturally conditioned to think like we are. We worry, we imagine things going wrong, we dwell on the past with regret or embarrassment, or we resist reality and wish things were different. Any thoughts we are having that are sending the message to our brain and our body that things should not be this way can induce a stress response.
Because stress always begins with a thought, choosing more positive thoughts and reducing those that may cause stress is the best way to prevent stress from ever happening. We can also adjust the things in our life that tend to trigger these thoughts, such as a overloaded schedule. Even with practice, none of us will be perfect at preventing stress, so doing something with the buildup of stress in our bodies or to alleviate stress side effects are other important parts of comprehensive stress management.
Here are 6 suggestions of effective ways to prevent and manage the stress in your life:
1. Aerobic exercise
Few activities are more beneficial to a human being, head to toe, than aerobic exercise. The physical and emotional benefits are extensive. Moving your body and getting your heart rate up is a highly effective way to reduce the stress in your life, since stress is literally designed to help you accomplish something physically challenging. The best exercise for you is the one that you will do! This could be going for a jog or brisk walk outside, or turning on music and dancing. No need to buy a gym pass, a treadmill, or nice workout clothes, unless you want too, of course. Even moving for just a few minutes can be really effective at combating stress.
Yoga promotes relaxation, which is the opposite of stress. And the poses and stretches can help relieve some of the side effects of stress you may be already dealing with, such as back or neck pain. You can get started by finding a local yoga instructor, or simply using yoga videos on YouTube.
Meditation directs your thoughts away from worrisome things and brings your body to a restful state. There are several different types of meditation you can try, and lots of apps in the app store if you need some assistance in learning how to do it or help to stay focused. Try some out and see what works best for you!
Mindfulness means to be in the moment. You can do this by tuning into your five senses, or just focusing on your breathing for a couple minutes. You can practice mindfulness when you eat food by truly savoring and experiencing the smells, tastes and textures. Mindfulness is a highly effective way to bring down the amount of stress in your life, because most of the time in the moment we are safe. Stress usually emerges from thinking about the past or the future. So next time you’re caught in traffic, enjoy the sights around you, savor the music you’re listening to, or tune into the feeling of the steering wheel in your hands, instead of imagining how unhappy your boss might be if you are late.
5. Gratitude and positive thoughts
Increasing the quantity of positive and peaceful thoughts you have in a day is one of the best ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Thoughts of gratitude are essentially the opposite of the type of thoughts that induce a stress response. Gratitude sends the message to your body and brain that things are going well and that you are safe, so gratitude can bring you to a restful state and train you to look on the bright side. There are many ways to practice gratitude. Consider journaling in the morning or evening, or stating several things that you're grateful for or happy about at certain times of the day, like meals or when you wash your hands. Implementing positive affirmations about yourself and your life into your routine can also be a powerful way to prevent stress.
6. An active, healthy social life
Humans are by nature a very social species. We evolved to live in groups and to bond and connect with others, as it increased our chances of survival. We may not always be conscious of it, but loneliness can feel really threatening to us. Surrounding yourself with people to love and who will love you in return is a powerful way to decrease the amount of stress in your life, especially positive people who uplift you. Virtual methods of connection such as social media and texting are lower quality and don't adequately meet our social needs. Seek to regularly get plenty of in-person interaction and physical touch.
If you are wanting a healthier body and mind in the present and future, a focus on stress management is one of the most effective ways to get it. Choose one thing that resonates with you and go for it!
Author: Hannah Clements
2/14/2023 07:53:14 am
Great information! Written well! The author got me thinking of some changes I need to make and goals to work on. Thank you Hannah!
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