Address Your Stress & Breathe a Little Easier

As we discussed in our last post, long-term stress is making America sick. If you can’t unload some of your stress, here are ways to manage it.

Re-calibrate your stress barometer

Pay attention to your state of mind, body, emotions, and other external factors. Usually, we don’t recognize our stress until we are burned out. We get caught up in life’s nuisances and neglect to check in with how we feel in the moment. What are you feeling emotionally: irritable, anxious, angry, overwhelmed, exhausted, helpless? What are you feeling physically? Your body may be alerting you to stress that you may not notice, such as frequent headaches, backaches, weight gain, and cravings towards alcohol, high-calorie foods, and other substances. Once you are aware of your present state of mind, it will be easier to address the stress before it overpowers your life, and prevent long-term stresses leading to burnout.

Schedule time for yourself

Self-care is the biggest factor in managing daily stress. Never hesitate to take time for yourself. It may feel selfish to carve out this time, but managing your stress not only helps you become happier, it also helps create better relationships and increase work-life satisfaction. The most important steps to daily self-care is to eat healthy foods, stay hydrated, exercise, and maintain a good sleep schedule.

If you’re feeling particularly stressed, find additional outlets to relieve that pressure. Can you take a vacation or even a mental health day? Do you have a Zen activity? Maybe this is a good time to go for a walk, pull out those knitting needles, or play with your crayons and paints. If you don’t have a Zen activity, is there anything that you’ve wanted to learn? Arts and crafts, music, and outdoor activities are some of the many ways to help manage stress. Engaging in such activities will reduce your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Seek the activity that resonates with you and helps you acquire a Zen moment.

News of the Thai soccer team stuck in the cave have resulted in a global discussion on the benefits of meditation for stress management. Several studies have shown that practicing consistent meditation can reduce stress and help people stay calm in times of distress. But if you don’t have a skilled practitioner at your side to guide you through your practice, or if meditation is not your forte, try yoga, stretching, or tai chi to alleviate stress.

Never be afraid to ask for help

Social support and meaningful relationships help make us more resilient to stress by releasing oxytocin, the hormone that improves mood and empathy. So instead of stress-eating, call a friend, play with your child, hug a loved one, or cuddle with a pet. And never hesitate to ask for help from loved ones, friends, or an expert when you’ve tried all you can and are still struggling to manage your stress.

Mom and Child_Unsplash 255699-Bruno Nascimento
While kids often make their parents feel more stressed, their laughter, hugs, and support are a powerful source of stress reduction. Don’t forget the hugs! (Photo by Bruno Nascimento)

Managing stress is a personal journey – how you manage stress will be unique to you. But it starts by finding the time, resources, and resolution to give yourself the love, tenderness, and care you deserve.

This post was co-written by Daphne.

Stress is, Literally, Eating Away At Your Brain

Stress is a phenomenon that dates back to our earliest ancestors. While the stressors have drastically changed from those of our predecessors, we still respond to stress with fight, flight, and freeze. Responding to short-term stresses, like touching a hot surface, is crucial for our survival. Say you are holding a very hot cup of a coffee. The nerve endings in your fingers activate the body’s alarm system, the amygdala, which triggers the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that governs involuntary body functions. The hypothalamus will increase your heartrate, blood pressure, breathing, immune system responses, and cause changes in the digestive system. All of these responses improve your body’s reflexes and prepare your body to take spontaneous action. In this case, to let go of the hot cup.

But our bodies also respond to the social-emotional stress of day-to-day pressures (like deadlines and family demands) as if it were a physical stress (like a hot cup, the flu, exercising, or a papercut). These social-emotional stressors are frequent and persistent; and they are changing our bodies and brains. Persistent, long-term stress is one of the biggest contributors to obesity, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases. These stressors can also lead to depression, anxiety disorders, addiction issues, eating disorders, and social isolation.

Even though work and family stress does not usually pose a threat to your survival, the body still sends the same flight, fight, or freeze signals. Chronic stress can lead to health and mental disorders.

Studies have shown that long-term stress is also affecting our brains. Stress-related activity in the hypothalamus affects memory and understanding. Long-term stress can also contribute to reductions in the volume of the medial prefrontal cortex, which is linked with long-term memory, decision-making, social connection, and emotional responses.

An annual stress survey conducted by the American Psychological Association shows that 25% of Americans are experiencing high levels of stress, while another 50% report moderate levels of stress.  Stress is a part of our everyday life and the only way to curb it is by managing it. You can cultivate a resiliency towards stress by:

  • Seeking social support
  • Engaging in brain stimulating activities, like learning a new language or a skill
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Pursuing creative hobbies, such as art and music
  • Seeking professional help

Learn more about managing stress in our next post!

This post was co-written by Daphne.