In our increasingly interconnected and busy world, it is easy to become overwhelmed and stressed out. All of us experience it from time to time. Stress can affect our relationships with our loved ones, friends and colleagues. Not to mention the profound effects it can have on our health if it becomes a chronic state. Keep reading to learn 4 ways to prevent and manage your stress.
What is stress?
Commonly known as the "flight-or-fight" response, stress is the normal response of the body to a real or perceived threat. If you are in a dangerous situation this quick response can actually be a good thing. However, having a high level of stress for a prolonged period of time can lead to health problems and negatively impact your quality of life.
What are the symptoms of stress?
When we first encounter a stressor we may notice our heart rate increasing, muscles tightening, and breathing getting faster. However, signs of chronic stress can be more vague and vary from person to person because we all handle stressors differently. Some signs are moodiness, difficulty relaxing, tiredness, sleeping difficulties, or frequent infections.
Identify your stress triggers
Every person is unique and it is important to figure out your stress triggers, whether they be financial concerns, relationship problems, or major life events. Stress is not just caused by negative effects. Wonderful events such as a marriage, new child, or new career can also increase our stress levels.
4 tips to prevent and manage chronic stress
1. Breathing exercises
Try this simple practice several times a day to relax your body. It can be particularly useful during upsetting moments.
- Exhale completely through your mouth.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four.
- Hold your breath to count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. The cycle can be repeated three more times for a total of four breaths.
It can be performed several times a day and is particularly useful during upsetting moments.
2. Physical Activity
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem." You can start to see benefits from aerobic exercise with as little as 5-10 minutes a day. I usually recommend taking a 10 minute walk outside daily to improve mood and reduce stress.
Developing a daily meditation habit can reduce anxiety and stress while also improving cardiovascular health. Also it is can be done in the privacy of your own home or in a group and does not require any special equipment. There are many ways to practice meditation or mindfulness. Options include breathing exercises, walking meditation, guided imagery and prayer. You may want to try this walking meditation:
- Slow down your pace of walking.
- Focus on each movement of your legs or feet.
- Don't focus on a particular destination.
- Repeating action words in your mind such as lifting, moving and placing as you lift each foot; move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.
For those that are more technologically inclined, there are several useful mindfulness apps available.
4. Doing things you enjoy
Often we feel we are too busy to take time for the things we enjoy, whether that be writing, volunteering, or a hobby. However, taking time for relaxation can reduce your stress and help you get more done in other areas of your life.
When to seek help
You don't have to manage stress all on your own. It is okay to seek support from family, friends and healthcare providers. Stress can be overwhelming and the sooner you reach out the sooner you can begin to get better.
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