We have all felt overwhelmed by stress, at one time or another; too many things to do, or to worry about, and complex emotions and concerns pile up and up. Feeling “stressed out” is a common thing in our culture, as we are expected to work more, longer and harder, and to manage family and financial demands independently. It can be easy to feel like it is all just too much.
Sometimes we are under stress, and we don’t even know it. Many of us, in fact, live in a perpetual state of stress and it has become our “norm.” You may know this feeling as “exhausting” but do you really know what stress is doing to your body?
When our brains perceive that we are under threat, whether physically, psychologically or emotionally, our bodies launch a stress response, called the fight or flight response. We are prepared for action: to fight the stressor or to flee from it. Stress hormones are released to empower our muscles to move and to inhibit unnecessary bodily functions so that energy is stored for mobility. The problem with the fight or flight response is the damage done when our bodies remain in this state, without the period of necessary recovery when the body resets itself. As well, the lack of actual action throws our metabolisms out of whack. Independent of “stress eating,” it is common for people undergoing a great deal of stress to gain weight, in particular around their middle. The adrenal glands, which excrete the stress hormones, become fatigued and this can lead to a host of problems including frequent colds and infections (and other more serious concerns).
Clearly, it is important to keep stress levels under control. But when you are truly “stressed out,” managing the stress response can seem like a gigantic task. First things first. Take a breath. Now follow these tips for managing stress in your life.
1. Find an Escape
We don’t necessarily want to advocate for you adding one more thing to your busy schedule, but we do want to drive home the point that you need some time for yourself. This time should be restful, and include you engaging in an activity that you truly love. Exercise is a great stress reliever because it works your muscles, can be meditative and releases happy hormones. Try yoga to gain even more meditative benefits, join a swim club, take up rowing, or simply walk with a friend several nights a week. Adding a social element will give you the opportunity to engage with others.
2. Eat Every Meal Sitting Down, Focused Only on Food
Busy people tend to take food for granted. They see lunch, in particular, as just another thing to do in a busy workday. Not so! This is your chance to slow down, take stock and enjoy the taste, texture and nutrition of your food. No matter how busy your day is, you should always take every meal sitting down and focused only on eating (so no more munching while you type). Let your mind wander over a favourite memory instead.
3. Stop to Take a Breath
Stress relief can be as simple as stopping to take a breath. A deep breath. When you feel anxious or overwhelmed, set everything aside, find a quiet place if possible, and just focus on deep breathing for a minute or more. Try it! We promise you will slow your body down and help save it from the nasty side effects of your stress response.
Sometimes the best advice for finding stress relief is to really make a major change in your life. If you are constantly under stress, you may need to take stock of what is really happening, and what needs to change in order to bring you to a place of wellness. Your health care practitioner is a great resource for learning how to bring greater stability to your life. Don’t be afraid to ask!