Stress Reducers for Healthy Living

Relaxing Clouds and Water

In this fast-paced world, stress reducers are essential to healthy living.

The definition of stress is the perceived pressures you face on a day to day basis. Notice the word "perceived." Stress is individual: What one person finds highly stressful, another may not even notice. In that fact lies the first key in how to manage stress: adjust your attitude about the circumstances you find stressful.

Before looking at specific ways to reduce stress, let's look at the signs of stress using a stress test and understand the effects of the symptoms of stress on the body.

Stress Test

Awareness is the first step in stress management. Some of the following symptoms and signs of stress could indicate a medical condition that needs prompt attention, so if the symptoms persist or worsen or you feel overwhelmed, seek professional help.

  • Do you regularly have trouble sleeping or wake up in the middle of the night thinking about things out of your control? Are you often tired?
  • Has the way you eat changed? Do you have stomach or intestinal problems?
  • Do you have problems with concentration?
  • Do you worry excessively?
  • Do you feel you have lost control over your life?
  • Are you tense or irritable? 
  • Do you lack energy or enthusiasm or feel listless or apathetic about your life and activities?
  • Have you lost your sense of humor?
  • Have you become increasingly forgetful?
  • Do your relationships feel unsatisfying?
  • Do you panic easily?
  • Do you frequently get colds or have allergies?
  • Are you drinking or smoking more than you use to?

How Stress Affects Your Body

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing—it can stimulate positive change and growth—but too much can be detrimental. Research shows that as stress increases, you may become more susceptible to physical illness, mental and emotional problems, and accidental injuries. Seventy to 90 percent, depending on the source you consult, of visits to general physicians are for problems related to stress.

"Stress can wreck havoc with your metabolism, raise your blood pressure, burst you white blood cells, make you flatulent, ruin your sex life, and if that’s not enough, possibly damage your brain."

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

Stress affects your body through the nervous system, which is the body's control center. Every thought, action, and emotion affects and reflects the activity of the nervous system though the mind-body connection. The nervous system is also responsible for the stress-related fight or flight response.

Stress affects your body through the nervous system, which is the body's control center. Every thought, action, and emotion affects and reflects the activity of the nervous system though the mind-body connection. The nervous system is also responsible for the stress-related fight or flight response.

Here’s how the fight or flight response works. Imagine an angry wild animal confronts you. You can choose to run or to fight. Either way,  your body gets ready for action by tensing your muscles, increasing your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, reeasing sugar into your blood stream for energy, and pumping adrenaline into your system. Your body also shuts down systems not needed for immediate survival, including digestion, your kidneys, and your reproductive system.

Your successful fight or flight is a stress reducer, with your body mostly returning to normal after the intense physical exertion. 

Most of what you face in your life is more subtle than a wild animal. But when someone yells at you or cuts you off in traffic, your body responds in ways similar to its response to the animal. Because fighting or running isn't usually acceptable, your body doesn't as easily return to its normal state. Over time, the effects build up and your body spends more time in the hyped-up fight or flight state.

Without a physical outlet as a stress reducer, stress causes serious health consequences. Look again at the description of the fight or flight reaction, and you can see that continually being in this state could lead to chronic tense muscles and to blood pressure, blood sugar, digestive, heart, kidney, or reproductive problems.

Stress Reducers

To prevent health problems, it’s important to have stress reducers that reverse the symptoms of stress. Here are ways for coping with stress.

Exercise

Exercise is one of the best stress reducers. It increases the flow of endorphins, natural pain relievers that are responsible for what is called "the runner’s high." In addition, exercise improves your circulation and helps relieve chronic tension and anxiety. Walk, jog, swim, bike, lift weights. Take a yoga, tai chi, or dance class. Do whatever movement captures your fancy, because exercise must be enjoyable if you expect to stick to it.

Get Outdoors

Regular exposure to outdoor light and fresh air lifts your spirits and is healthy in many ways.

Meditate

By calming your mind, meditation is another great stress reducer. 

Get Massage

Massage therapy is one of the best stress reducers available. Massage relieves tense muscles and evokes the opposite of the fight or flight response: the relaxation response, which decrease heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure and increases blood circulation to your entire, helping all the body's system function at an optimal level. Read more about the benefits of massage.

Take Charge of Your Life

  • Establish your boundaries at home and work. Choose to let go of some less important activities and focus on what's really important to you. Learn how to say "no" in a way that respects the other person's request. 
  • If possible, act to change situations that trouble you. Ask for support if you need it. Also, remember that you can never control another person's behavior, only your own.
  • Talk to your family and friends about your concerns. Use "I" statements and avoid blame. For example, "I feel stressed. With my deadlines at work, I feel can’t keep up at home."  
  • Try new things in your life. 
  • Laugh. Watch comedies and read humorous books. Get together with people who know how to look at the lighter side of life. Try laughter yoga.
  • Express your creativity. Write down your memories, grow flowers and herbs, or knit a sweater. Take a painting, writing, or photography class.
  • Make time and space for your own relaxation and stress reduction, even if it’s only for 30 minutes a few times a week. This suggestion includes taking your breaks at work and using them to refresh yourself. Occasionally, take a weekend, or just a morning, away from your obligations and worries. On your getaways, leave work and worries behind. If you need a technique to help you let go, write down your worries or concerns, and then tuck the list away, knowing you can get back to it after your time away.

For the ultimate stress reducer, take the advice from the title of a book by Richard Carlson, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... and It's All Small Stuff. Your attitude can be your best friend or your worst enemy—it's your choice.

More Information

Books about stress reducers.

Natural Stress Relief tips and holistic natural stress relief techniques and remedies at Holistic Mindbody Healing.com

Healthy Living Guide offers tips for green living.

Stress Relief Tools for information about stress, relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, yoga, and more.

Stress-Relief-Workshop.com helps you discover how stress could be affecting your life and how to manage it using techniques and coping strategies on a daily basis to improve health and lifestyle. 

Image Credit: Olga Iermolaieva/PhotoXpress

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