Stress is a major component to health in the modern world. This isn’t to say that people in medieval times or the Roaring Twenties weren’t stressed; it’s just that we are now able to see how it can contribute to illnesses like depression, stomach disorders, headaches, and more. April is Stress Awareness Month. Learning how stress works--what triggers it and how to combat it--is key to being able to move through it effectively.
How Stress Works
Stress is a response of the sympathetic nervous system. The response is initiated by stress hormones rushing into the bloodstream, increasing heart rate, blood pressure and glucose levels. At the same time, other hormones suppress digestion and immune functions.
This automatic reflex activates when we feel threatened, like swerving to avoid a car crash or running from a bear. It can also be activated when we worry about things like work, finances, Relationships… the list is endless. Seeing how chronic stress can affect us on a cellular level reiterates how important it is to learn stress management tips.
Stress Management Tips
1. Learn to notice when you’re stressed. Easier said than done, right? But the truth is, just by making the effort to *be* less stressed opens you up to noticing when your stress levels are rising. It’s all about taking control of your health.
2. Clean one surface a day. Clutter is one of the most common physical signs of stress, and also one shown to increase stress levels (insert all cliche similes you’ve ever heard about a cluttered space reflecting a cluttered mind). So, start taking care of both physical and mental spaces. Spend some time every day tidying up your work area, kitchen counters, bedside table, wherever clutter tends to accumulate.
3. Take a break. Some sufferers of stress could benefit from spending their banked-up hours on a sorely-needed vacation. Or, if that’s not in the cards, schedule some time for yourself to de-stress in whatever way helps you relax. Think of it in the same way you would an important meeting for work or meeting a friend...you wouldn’t cancel either one, would you? Put your cell phone in airplane mode and tell yourself that everything you need to do will still be there in an hour, two hours, etc. Or just take five minutes for a meditative break, using an app like Insight Timer, Headspace or Calm which feature quick guided meditations. The key here – put it on your calendar!
4. Start a journal. No, no, no, this doesn’t have to be the ‘Dear Diary’ page-a-day composition book kind of journal you used in middle school. There are a ton of different journaling styles, from the traditional story style to the uber-efficient bullet journal. Whichever mode you choose, make a point to do it every day, and every day, listing five things that went well. Putting a positive spin on the day, along with reflecting on things that made you happy, can help shift your brains automatic thoughts towards the calmer end of the spectrum.
Developing stress awareness leads to resilience. Small amounts of stress can be good--they help us survive danger--but large amounts lead to a mind that can’t turn off. Learn to allow yourself to relax and take care of your mind and body at the same time.