Stress is something that affects us all. Chronic stress is different in that it can have serious mental, physical and relational effects if it goes unchecked for too long.
Stress naturally triggers a fight, flight or fear response that is designed to help us know when to get out of danger. But when that response is triggered and on for an extended time the adrenaline it produces is pumping constantly. This places fatigue on the kidneys and the body’s entire system. Some experts suspect that up to 80% of most diseases can be linked directly to stress.
I recall a time several years ago when I woke up with a headache unlike anything I had ever experienced, and a strange rash. Several trips to the doctor later, I ended up with a diagnosis of Shingles that blew my mind. The biggest risk factor I had for Shingles? Stress.
Stress is a key cause of many small and big health problems, including hypertension, headaches, insomnia, skin conditions and diabetes. It can even contribute to mental health concerns like depression and anxiety. Knowing that stress has such an impact on our health, it is important to take steps to combat it to whatever extent we can.
Here are five everyday skills that help you defuse some of your stress levels and keep you that much healthier and happier.
Regular exercise is known to boost your immunity, improve heart health and blood circulation, increase the amount of oxygen coming in through the lungs and lower stress. But did you know it can also elevate mood as happiness endorphins are released during exercise? A workout of low to moderate intensity can increase your vitality, reduce pain, and improve your sleep. Exercise helps relieve some of the tension associated with chronic stress. No gym membership needed here. A healthy workout can be had by cranking up the tunes on the radio and dancing or just going for a brisk walk outside.
Eating well is an essential part of reducing stress. Too much fat, red meat, carbohydrates, and sugar in the diet put stress on the heart and the arteries. Chronic stress has been connected to the storage of fat around the middle. To help reduce stress through diet, here is what you should be eating: A minimum of five, and up to ten portions of leafy greens and other vegetables and fruits each day; a small amount of lean meat, chicken or fish; a small amount of whole grains, or legumes (beans and lentils); nuts and seeds. It short, when you eat better, you feel better. More clear and capable of critically thinking through stressful situations.
Believe it or not, this is a skill and one that you can improve on with practice. At first, it can be hard to sit still but with practice you'll be more aware of the muscles in your body that naturally tense when you are under pressure. Here's a quick practice. Start by clenching one muscle group for a few seconds, and then release. You can even start with your hand if that is easier. Then move on to the next muscle group and repeat. As you relax, the stress response is turned off and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, aiding your digestion and your ability to experience peace and inner quiet.
If you've ever been driving home and arrived in your driveway, not remembering the last couple minutes of your drive, you know how easy it is to be stressed out and focusing on the past or the future. Mindfulness is the art of focusing only on the present moment, and many of us could use some practice. One way to do this is to become aware of your different senses: Listen to the sounds outside your window, feel the touch of your clothes on your skin, smell the aromas of your food, appreciate the colors around you, and notice the tastes of foods when you eat.
Last, but certainly not least, a good night’s sleep will allow your body a deep and nourishing rest to heal itself; without good sleep stress is exacerbated. To sleep well, avoid caffeine and other stimulants so that you can get an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Turn all technology off an hour before you turn off the lights. Also, turn the lights down for a while before you actually go to sleep. Use your relaxation skills to help you fall into a deeper sleep.
With these easy, everyday skills under your belt, you are well equipped to combat stress. If you combine them all into your daily routine, you will undoubtedly see a reduction in your stress levels and an increase in your happiness levels.
Exercise, healthy eating, relaxation, mindfulness, and good sleep are key elements in your health and well-being and are essential skills to have in your stress reduction toolkit.