There are stress free days when everything seems to go your way…
Days when every traffic light is green, every person you walk past on the street gives you a smile, and you wake up feeling great after a decent nights sleep.
Those days you feel on top of the world like nothing can go wrong.
But for a lot of us – those days are not most days.
Most days are littered with challenges like spilling tea down your top that you just pulled out the wash, and waking up at 3 am unable to get back to sleep, leaving you feeling tired reaching for ‘another’ cup of coffee during the day. Ultimately leaving you feeling stressed out, tired and unfulfilled.
Most days have some amount of stress and frustration, and unfortunately, most people don’t have a good plan of action for coping with it when it comes up.
I want to share with you practical ways you can manage stress without it having a costly impact on your health.
So first, let’s take a look at what stress does to your body…
When we’re stressed, our stress hormone (cortisol) floods our body producing the “fight or flight” response – meaning our heart rate goes us, our blood vessels constrict, we don’t breathe properly and our muscles tighten up.
Rewind to pre-civilization, cortisol allowed us to escape from dangerous situations, but now because we don’t need to run away from lions and bears, when our stress response is triggered, instead of helping us to escape it lingers in the body and can lead to conditions like hypertension, headaches, pain in the body, and mental health concerns like depression and anxiety. What’s more, stress can make other conditions like asthma, IBS, and insomnia worse.
The truth is, we don’t really have a choice when it comes to getting stressed, so we may as well do what we can to undo its effects and learn to manage it better so it doesn’t take over our lives.
With that in mind, here are a few practical things you can do to keep your stress in check and undo its effects:
1. Breathe Deeply To Alleviate Stress
If you practice Yoga, you’ll know that the breath plays an important role in nourishing the body.
Just taking a few deep breaths in and out can help reduce tension and relieve stress, thanks to an extra boost of oxygen. While shallow breathing (an indicator of stress) stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (the one you don’t want to take over), deep breathing does the opposite, it stimulates the parasympathetic reaction which helps calm us down.
Something practical you can do is to check-in with yourself multiple times a day, as much as every hour if you can, and just notice how you’re breathing – are you taking a short breath in and a long breath out? Are you doing the opposite taking a long inhale and doing a short exhale?…
Try to get the inhale and exhale the same length, and after a few minutes you’ll definitely feel it’s positive effects, and it’ll calm your nervous system down.
2. Get Moving
The benefits of exercise for beating stress are well documented, but you don’t have to do anything strenuous and work up a sweat. You can simply grab your keys and go for a brisk walk to shake the stress off your body. The immediate change of scenery and body chemistry can drastically reduce stress.
If you feel up to it, more vigorous exercise such as high-intensity cardio releases endorphins that make us feel good and help battle our stress hormones. Be careful not to push too hard though especially at times of high stress, as going too hard can be another stressor that you don’t need.
You know your body better than anyone so just do your best!
3. Take A Break
When you feel like you’re running around after everyone, doing everything, and have too much to do – remind yourself that you can’t do it all.
But what you can do is schedule in quiet time for yourself that doesn’t require your mind to do too much thinking – make time to read a book, listen to music, or spend time with a friend who lifts your spirits! It’s important to give yourself a break from the go go go of life on a regular basis.
4. Spend Time In Nature To Reduce Stress
Now that the sun’s out getting outdoors in natural scenery can help to reduce psychological stress, even science backs it up!
Numerous studies have proven that being in the presence of trees and natural scenery boosts the immune system, lowers stress and contributes to an overall sense of wellness.
So next time you get a sunny weekend make an effort to get outside, I bet your mood will feel lifted, even if it’s just a little bit!
5. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
And finally, a regular sleeping pattern is essential for managing stress.
Everyone knows you should get between 7 and 8 hours a night, but how many of us do?
If you have difficulty sleeping, get yourself an eye mask. The dark calms the body and helps you gradually ease into a regular sleeping pattern without any light interrupting you.
When you’re well rested you’ll take care of yourself the following day, and in turn, you’re more likely to sleep easier that night. It’s all about creating a positive cycle that can become a healthy habit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kim Gladfelter, MPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
Women's Health Physical Therapy Specialist at PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness
Kim Gladfelter is a physical therapist, Pilates instructor, educator, author, and co-founder of PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness. She is known as a keen, well-rounded expert of healing through movement and women’s health specialist in the Silicon Valley area.
Kim has helped men and women of all ages to stay active and feel their best. She also writes about managing pain in her health columns, blogs and the local Los Altos Town Crier newspaper as well as reaches out to the local community, support groups, schools, libraries, and sports centers to advise and educate on body awareness and therapeutic exercise.