What is likely to kill you?
What is an underlying factor in a wide range of diseases and medical conditions?
What gets your heart racing both when it should and it shouldn’t?
The answer to all these questions is stress. Unfortunately, Americans are experiencing far too much of it these days. An astonishing 94% of American workers feel stressed at work and 83% suffer as a result. Furthermore, work-related stress is reported to cause 120,000 deaths and rack up $190 billion in healthcare costs each year.
And that’s only one source of stress!
Feeling a little stressed just reading this intro? Maybe it’s time to slow down and learn some effective ways of managing stress before things get worse. Check out our favorite tips for reducing stress here.
What Is Stress?
Before we dive in, let’s look at why learning to handle your stress properly is so essential.
First, you need to understand that not all stress is bad. Stress in some cases is actually good for us. It is designed to help us reach our goals in life and even protect ourselves from danger.
For example, the fight or flight response that you feel in a dangerous situation is stress. It motivates you to get out of the situation quickly or empowers you to fight your way out, if necessary.
It is also activated when you know you have a big work project due tomorrow, but haven’t finished. For some people, the idea of being stressed by an approaching deadline motivates them to finish their project well ahead of time. For others, the stress itself spurs them on to do their best work.
Regardless of which type of person you are, stress helps you get it done. A stressed state for a short period of time can help you concentrate and even have residual effects such as boosting the immune system.
Why Is Stress so Bad?
The problem is when you live in that stressed state long-term. The effects that stress and anxiety have on your body are supposed to be short-term to deal with the immediate situation and are not conducive to healthy living.
For example, stress routes your body’s resources to the systems you need to address the immediate situation. In a fight-or-flight situation, you’ll breathe harder to flood your brain with more oxygen, your muscles will tense, and your heart will beat faster — all to ready your body for a physical response to danger. In doing this, the body dampens other functions such as the digestive system, immune system, and other functions that are not essential to face the current threat.
However, these functions are essential long-term for leading a healthy life. Plus, this heightened state is not very conducive to getting a good night’s sleep and lack of sleep leads to a laundry list of health problems.
Chronic stress takes a heavy toll on the body as evidenced by the fact that stress is linked to the top 6 killers in the US:
- Coronary heart disease
- Accidental injuries
- Respiratory disorders
- Cirrhosis of the liver
When we confront this sobering information, it becomes clear that we all need to take a step and reevaluate our hectic, stressed lifestyles. It’s time to alleviate some of that stress.
Top Tips for Handling Stress
What are some of the best methods for handling stress? It’s unlikely that most of us will drop everything and spend the rest of our lives smelling the roses. However, here are some practical ways that you can reduce your stress and still live the full, energetic life you love.
1. Get Some Exercise
No, your doctor isn’t paying us to say this, but if he’s been telling you to get more exercise, we definitely recommend taking his advice. Getting consistent exercise is arguably the number one “treatment” you can use to help yourself live a long, happy life.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which are sometimes referred to as the “feel-good chemicals”. They help lift your spirits, put you in a better frame of mind, and calm the anxiety you feel inside. Rhythmic exercises such as swimming laps or running can also serve as a type of meditation in motion. If you’ve ever gone for a run when feeling frustrated, you’ll know exactly what we mean.
Exercise also heightens many of the same systems as stress. Regular exercise gives your body practice in returning to a normal state after a spike of activity. It also makes you physically tired, which helps you sleep. A good night’s sleep does wonders for a stressed-out mind.
Plus, you’ll feel better about yourself. There really isn’t a downside, so get up and move! Even just 30 minutes of vigorous activity every other day or so will make a huge difference.
2. Spend Some Time in Nature
There’s a huge stress-reliever all around us that many of us never make time to take advantage of. Nature itself is chock full of things that have a positive effect on our bodies and helps alleviate stress.
Being in nature slows the production of stress hormones, reduces your blood pressure, slows your heart rate, and helps to calm your mind overall — all of which helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
In fact, this study found that spending just 20-30 minutes in nature provoked the biggest drop in cortisol levels, a measure of stress.
As a bonus, spend that 20 minutes walking or jogging around your local park for a double dose of exercise and nature immersion.
3. Get More Sleep
Lack of sleep is a huge issue when it comes to feeling stressed. Adults who get less than 8 hours of sleep each night consistently report feeling more stressed and experiencing other negative consequences such as being short on patience and losing their temper. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle because feeling stressed can keep you up at night and the resulting lack of sleep makes you feel more stressed.
How do you break it?
Start with our first two tips. Getting some exercise and spending time in nature will help you feel more tired and calm your mind for sleep. For the last few hours before bed, avoid using electronic devices as much as possible. The blue light emitted from these devices suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel sleepy.
Finally, set a schedule for sleep and stick to it. Carve out enough time and make sleep a priority. You might be surprised how much more productive you are when you’ve had enough sleep!
4. Eat a Balanced Diet
In general, foods can either help you or harm you. They can nourish your body with the proper nutrients that you need to feel alert and think clearly, or they can make your body feel sluggish and cloud your mind. The foods you choose to eat can even affect your mood and, yes, your stress level.
As you might have guessed, we’re not going to be recommending the typical comfort foods people reach for when they feel stressed. In fact, there’s another vicious cycle here. People often reach for sugary snacks when they feel stressed, but sugar consumption may contribute to higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
A balanced diet and including some foods in particular in your diet has a calming effect on stress. For example, eating oatmeal helps reduce stress hormones and boosts serotonin, a calming chemical. Camomile or mint tea both seem to help alleviate stress and are great for helping you sleep when enjoyed before bed. In general, look for these nutrients to help alleviate stress naturally:
- Vitamin C (citrus fruits)
- Magnesium (spinach and other leafy greens, salmon)
- Complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, and veggies)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, nuts, and seeds)
So, instead of letting your anxiety drive you to eat more sweets, take charge of your diet. You just might find both your anxiety and your desire to eat more sugar slowly melting away.
5. Make Time for Leisure
If you are like many Americans these days, you don’t feel adequate if you aren’t being productive. You have a million things on your to-do list and it only seems to get longer even as you check items off.
We aren’t designed to live life at 100 miles an hour. Take some time to slow down. Say no to a new project, let go of some responsibilities that are only weighing you down anyway. Make some time for leisure. All of the things on the following list help reduce your stress levels in large or small ways:
- Playing with a pet
- Listening to relaxing music
- Getting a massage
- Spending time with a friend
- Hugging a loved one
- Drawing or coloring
- Breathing exercises and/or aromatherapy
Stay Calm and Carry On
Life is meant to be enjoyed. Don’t get so caught up in the things that make up days that you don’t spend your time enjoying it.
If you find that you need some time to relax and enjoy some peace in a controlled environment, you may want to consider our recovery oasis at Tikvah Lake. Enjoy a 200-acre lake, pool and spa, miles of nature trails, and private therapy — all designed to help you enjoy life the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
Contact us today to learn more!