No matter if you’re a worrier by nature or have learned fretful habits over time, stress can diminish your health and corrode your quality of life. Whether it’s work, school or relationships that have your back or stomach in knots, there are practical – and relatively easy – ways to get your mind and body back to a more healthful place.
Are you stressed?
Stress comes in many forms. Acute stress (short-term) can come on suddenly as the result of a demanding or even dangerous situation – for example, a close call with another vehicle on the road. Chronic stress (long-term) is brought on by longer-lasting stressful situations, such as a job that is consistently demanding or someone you love who is suffering with an illness. These situations can produce chronic stress, which can be damaging to your emotional health as well as your body. Symptoms of stress include:
- Feeling cranky and unable to cope with small problems
- Frustration and loss of temper
- Difficulty focusing
- Worrying, even about small things
- A feeling of impending doom
Most folks, generally speaking, experience stress. How you cope with it is what matters.
Get on your hobby horse
What do you like to do that helps you feel relaxed or connected to yourself or something positive? Get in the garden or take your dog for a walk. Get out your brushes and paint – a still-life or your living room. Read a good book or build a good bookshelf. Volunteer for something about which you feel passionate. Immersing yourself in something you enjoy can have a meditative effect.
Find comfort in food
The idea of comfort food isn’t just lore. Complex carbohydrates can boost serotonin levels, which directly affect how good we feel. Whole-grain breakfast cereals – including oatmeal – along with whole-grain breads and pastas help boost your serotonin as well as stabilize your blood sugar levels. Sweets and soda aren’t good long-term solutions, but in a pinch, either can serve as a short-term fix to a suddenly stressful moment.
Tell it like it is
Keep a journal. Take 10 to 15 minutes each day to write about what is bothering you and how you are coping with the stress in your life. If writing isn’t your thing, consider talking to a friend or family member, a counselor or someone from your clergy about what’s bothering you. Let it out. Tell it like it is to someone – or something – safe.
Experience a ‘C’ change
Studies suggest that vitamin C can be beneficial in terms of lowering levels of stress hormones in the body while strengthening the immune system. If you have a stressful event on the horizon – a visit with your in-laws, a presentation at work, a monster of a term paper – talk to your provider about taking vitamin C supplements.
Exercise your right to happiness
Time and again, experts agree that exercise is a sure way to boost your mood and reduce stress. Aerobic exercise is most effective at increasing oxygen circulation and producing endorphins – chemicals that trigger positive feeling in the body. Your recommended dose: 30 minutes three to four times per week.
Let the good times roll
Has stress taken away your sense of humor? Don’t despair. Instead, find a reason to laugh – whether it’s the Sunday funnies, your favorite sitcom or a good feature-length comedy – because it’s good for you. Laughter stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the release of endorphins. It also can stimulate circulation and muscle relaxation, both of which can help dissipate symptoms of stress. Negative thoughts can actually physically impact your body by manifesting as chemical reactions that chip away at your immunity and flood your system with stress. Thinking positively – and indeed, laughing – can release neuropeptides that help combat stress. Laughing, if nothing else, helps you connect with the lighter side of yourself – and others.
If you’ve exhausted your self-care options and are still disturbed by stress, make an appointment with your provider to discuss whether how you feel is symptomatic of anxiety or depression.