Who isn’t a little stressed these days?! Stress gets a bad rap in our fast-paced times, when in fact it is not stress that is our foe; it is how we handle stress and the negative impact that response can have on our bodies that causes us so many problems. Luckily, there are a few things that we can do to combat the constant barrage of stress we face every day.
The Impact of Stress
We are surrounded by stressors everyday – deadlines, traffic, kids, , not to mention the constant flow of information coming at us from our TVs, phones, radios, computers and news media. AND, all that stress is having a huge impact on our health; just look at these statistics:
- 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress
- 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints or disorders
- Stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis and suicide.
- Stress is responsible for more than half of the 550,000,000 workdays lost annually because of absenteeism.
- 47 million Americans exhibit excessive abdominal fat due to a stress-related condition known as “metabolic syndrome”.
Source: American Institute of Stress (www.stress.org)
It is known that stress causes us all sorts of health issues. The reason is that the chemical that are secreted in response to stress – namely, cortisol and norepinephrine – impact almost every organ and system in the body. Therefore, each and every one of us have to take specific measures to combat the daily onslaught of stressors that we face so that we can improve our stress resiliency.
Each of us is confronted with stressors every day. When we are confronted with stress, we can do one of three things: (1) we can change the situation, (2) we can change our response to the situation or (3) we can build our resistance to the effect(s) of the stress.
In the first case, there are certainly stressful situations we can change. Let’s say for instance we have a car that continually breaks down or that we are in a relationship that no longer serves us. in these situations, we can eliminate the stress by getting rid of the car or letting go of the relationship. Doing so allows us to move beyond our current situation to one that (ideally) has less stress.
If changing the situation is not possible, the next thing we can do is change our response to the situation. Let’s say there is a particular chore you don’t like doing – say, cleaning the toilets – and you get really uptight at the mere thought of doing so. You can try and reframe the situation to make it less stressful, or ideally, to make it more fun. In our example, maybe you listen to some of your favorite music while pretending you are brewing up a magical potion to improve your life while you clean the toilet. It doesn’t matter how goofy it is, as this is all only going on inside your head:) You can use this technique on most of the stressors that you can’t change. While you may not be able to easily change your response in every situation, you can certainly try, and that effort alone will likely open up new possibilities to see the situation in a different way.
No matter what the situation, there are many things that you can do to improve your stress resiliency. There are numerous stress management techniques that you can use to help reduce the impact that stress has on your health including; getting enough sleep, regular exercise, stretching/yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, and doing things you love to do. The keep to building your stress resiliency is to perform these exercises daily, and often, multiple times daily. This has the double effect of not only improving your stress resiliency, it also short-circuits the stress response so that stress doesn’t continue to build and compound throughout the day.
Breathe in…breathe out…
One of the greatest tools we have to combat stress and keep ourselves centered is our breathing. Many of us have forgotten how to breathe correctly, and we pay a large price for it. Have you ever watched a baby breathe? Notice how the baby’s abdomen moves gently in and out with each breath. Now let’s see how you breathe – place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen and take a couple nice deep breaths – which hand moves the most?? If you are like many Americans, it will be the hand on your chest. Chest-breathing causes us to take in shallow breaths which dramatically decreases the amount of oxygen that gets into our bodies.
So how do you learn to breathe deeply using the abdomen? Practice, practice, practice! Practice pulling the breath in and pushing it all out, every last bit of air, using your abdominal muscles.
Another trick is to use Post-it notes or other reminders to give yourself a cue throughout the day to breathe deeply. For instance, if your phone rings a lot, every time the phone rings, take a deep breath. If you go into different rooms often, every time you walk through a door or hallway, take a deep breath. Every time someone calls your name, take a deep breath. You get the picture – giving yourself reminders will allow you to enjoy the benefits of deep breathing without having to add a lot into your day.
Now if you’d like specific deep breathing exercises, we have some to get you started. Click here for several deep breathing exercises to help you with stress management.