Originally, a stress response meant a threat to our physical existence: a tiger was chasing us, a neighboring tribe was invading, our ship at sea was sinking. These events led to a perfect chemical condition in the body that helped us have more physical stamina to survive. We could either fight for our lives or run very fast: the fight or flight response.
Modern stress is different. A physical attack or other life-threatening circumstance occurs rarely even though the majority of people feel excess stress daily. Why does the fight or flight response occur when our lives are not threatened? Because our minds don’t distinguish between a true threat and one that we imagine or worry about.
Managing modern stress is vital to our optimal health and well-being. When we don’t manage it, stress lets us know through anxiety, worry, irritability, indigestion, tightness in the jaws, neck and shoulders, clenched teeth, anger, headaches, fatigue, panic attacks, sleeplessness and overeating. We might as well include heart disease, cancer, chronic fatigue and other modern diseases. When your body releases chemicals designed to strengthen you but doesn’t get an outlet such as fighting or fleeing, your health and well-being are undermined.
You guide and direct your own stress response based on your perceptions and actions. Sometimes other people and a hectic lifestyle affect you adversely, but nothing can disturb your inner balance except you. There are many ways you can help your body process stress that don’t involve fighting or running away. Just by incorporating these ten tips alone, you can protect yourself from the harmful side effects of stress.
- Exercise. You’ve heard it so much maybe you’ve begun to ignore the advice, but exercise will burn off the excess fuel that stress creates in your body. It oxygenates your cells and clears out the chemicals. Make moving your body a daily habit. If you are under extreme lifestyle stress, workout vigorously and let yourself sweat.
- Expose yourself to sunlight. It strengthens immunity, increases endorphins to help balance your emotions and, among other benefits, reduces stress.
- Limit sugar, white flour products and packaged, processed foods of all kinds. They increase stress as the body tries to figure out what to do with them. Instead, eat whole foods that come from nature, which is what is intended for optimal health and wellness.
- Sleep well and plenty. If you have insomnia, visit an acupuncturist.
- Pay no mind to stressed people and begin to clear unhealthy relationships from your life. Surround yourself with supportive, positive people.
- Take note of how much television news coverage you watch. Once the reel comes around again and you hear the same fear-based story for the second time, turn the channel. It is extremely stressful on your body to watch horrific scenes and hear about tragedies. Take action to help, or focus on something else.
- Look for the joy in your work. Lack of it is an emotional drain and daily stressor, and there are two options for finding it: Change your job or change the way you think about it.
- Find a way to reduce the amount of noise in your environment. Noise pollution is a big stressor and one which many people ignore. What irritating noise do you tolerate in your daily life? How can you bring more quiet into your life?
- Eliminate worry. We either can do something about a situation or we have no control over it. Get clear on what your options are and either do something to make a change or understand it is out of your control and let it go. Let this practice become a healthy habit.
- When your desk is piled high, you are racing the clock, your daughter doesn’t arrive home when she said she would, and your mother comes to visit, breathe. Harmful stress involves shallow breathing. Breathe slowly, allowing your belly to rise instead of your chest and shoulders. It is impossible to remain stressed when you breathe deeply.
Tune in next time when I will suggest natural remedies to further help you alleviate and manage stress in your life.
– Christina Grant, Ph.D.