In 2018, the American Psychological Association reported that 34% of Americans say their stress levels had shot up in the last year. Our society celebrates a chaotic and busy lifestyle and frowns upon those who take time off to rest and recoup. A go go go lifestyle usually comes with added stress and living in a state of chronic stress can have a huge impact on our health, wellness, and longevity. Fortunately, there are healthy ways to manage stress. Keep reading to find out what they are and how you can implement them into your life!
When our body feels stressed or endangered our fight or flight response kicks in and our body starts pumping out cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. This response causes blood pressure and heart rate to rise, as oxygen goes to your large muscle groups. Cortisol alters functions that are considered nonessential in a fight or flight situation. For example it changes immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. Cortisol also communicates with the parts of the brain that control motivation and fear. For our ancestors in the Stone Age this response was what helped keep them alive, but today it often is our brain overreacting to a perceived threat to our life.
Being in this state of fight or flight for long periods of time has been shown to have negative implications for our overall health. Usually, once the perceived threat goes away the body returns to its natural state. However, if you have a stressful job that causes you to be in a state of stress everyday, there can be lasting effects on your health. Too much cortisol can wreak havoc on the body and puts you at risk of many health problems, including:
Memory and concentration impairment
Affects how you age
That is why it is so important to learn ways of coping with stress. There are many ways to manage stress and I am sure I won’t cover them all in this one article. However, I want to give you 5 simple, healthy ways to manage stress that are easy to implement into your everyday life! These 5 strategies take less than 15-20 minutes to improve your stress level.
There is a lot of research supporting exercise as a mental health tool and stress reliever, specifically running! A great book by Scott Douglas called “Running is my Therapy”, touches on his experiences using running as a way to combat depression and anxiety since he was a teen, and highlights research articles that support the notion of using running as a way to improve mental health. It’s a great read, and you can get it on Amazon!
In his book Douglas mentions that 3 short runs a week of 30 minutes can have positive overall effects on your physical and mental health. We know that exercising regularly, for as short as 15 minutes, has been shown to decrease the risk for the health problems that were listed above, as well as:
Shields the body from a number of diseases
Lowers blood pressure
Lowers stroke rates
Lowers risk of heart attacks
Can decrease the risk of developing cancer
Prevent or treat type II diabetes
Can help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s as well as slow the progression
The best thing about exercise is that when done right there are no negative side effects! If you want to read more about how exercise is medicine, I recommend checking out TIME’s special edition magazine called “The Science of Exercise”, also on Amazon.
Diaphragmatic or Deep Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to reduce stress because when we use our diaphragm to breathe it stimulates our vagus nerve. The vagus nerve controls our “Fight or Flight” response. By stimulating that nerve when we practice diaphragmatic breathing, we are helping our body to relax and get out of that state of stress. Some surprising benefits of deep breathing, include:
Better air intake
For a more in depth look at breathing optimally for performance (and everyday life!) you can read my article about it, HERE!
Meditating is not only a great way to relieve stress but it also helps us work on mindfulness. Studies have found meditation can be just as effective as antidepressants for treating anxiety symptoms. Meditation can change your body by:
Releasing happy chemicals
Lowering blood pressure: if you practice meditation regularly you can change your overall blood pressure, not just in the moment of meditation.
When practicing meditation it is ideal to be in a quiet space, but you can still gain benefits by doing this while walking, or evening standing in line at the store. It is recommended to turn off your devices, and be free from distractions while meditating. You can close your eyes or keep them open. Try to settle your attention on your normal, natural breathing. If you become distracted by a thought notice it and then let it go. Some people enjoy having soft music or nature sounds on in the background while meditating, find what works for you! There are great apps that have guided meditations or peaceful sounds to help you relax, and they can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 60 minutes. A few of my favorite apps are:
If you’re interested in learning more TIME has a special edition magazine called “Mindfulness” and it is full of great information and ways to practice mindfulness that all have a positive impact on your health, and you can get it on Amazon.
Practice Gratitude - Positive Mindset
Making a consistent effort to notice and appreciate the positive things in life changes us for the better. When we pay attention to the positives instead of the negatives we start to rewire our brain to see positive things more often.
Have you ever noticed when you bought a new car, that you start to see that same car everywhere, when you hadn’t noticed it before? We tell our brains what to pay attention to whether consciously or subconsciously, and that goes for positives and negatives in our lives. If we constantly see negative things, those are the things our brain will start to look for automatically. Practicing gratitude by taking 5 minutes a day to write down what you are grateful for the positive things in your life can start to change the things you look for day to day. This gratitude ritual can help you by:
Making you feel happier
Boosting your energy levels
Improve overall health
Improve your relationships
Overall make you a nicer person
Do Something Fun
Taking a break from whatever is causing you stress is really important. Whether it’s taking a 15 minute break to have some time alone, taking a vacation, taking a day off of work, avoiding certain people for a short time, but give yourself a break. I realize that not all stressors can be avoided forever, but giving yourself time to step away and do something fun can have a positive impact on your overall health and wellness. Remember, adults need to play too!
Stress affects us all in different ways and can have different lasting impacts on our bodies and minds. Stress, especially when it is a constant part of life should not be overlooked or brushed off. I hope these strategies are helpful tools for you when you are feeling stressed.