Stress. Simply defined it’s a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our mental and physical equilibrium. In other words, it’s a given part of life! While many people automatically consider it a bad thing and search for ways to lower stress, a little bit – known as acute stress – can actually be exciting and keep the body active and alert. But the long-term – or chronic stress – is what can be of concern as it can have a detrimental effect on your overall health and well-being.
While we may not always be able to control the stressors in our lives, we can do things that will go a long way in determining how we react to them and help lower stress.
There are two main factors that contribute to the stress in our lives – external factors and internal factors.
External contributing factors can include such things as our environment, jobs, relationships, home life, and all of the situations and challenges we’re confronted with on a daily basis.
Internal factors, on the other hand, determine your body’s ability to deal with and respond to the external factors that our thrown our way. Internal factors that determine your ability to handles stress can include such things as your overall health, fitness level, nutrition, the amount of sleep you get, etc..
For the purpose of this article, I want to focus a bit more on those internal factors and what we can do to take action and not allow stress to become an issue in contributing to health issues.
You have more control over your stress than you think …
The first thing to establish and understand is that you have more control over stress than you think. Managing stress is all about taking charge of everything from your lifestyle to your thoughts, emotions and how you deal with problems. So no matter how stressful life may be, there are steps you can take to relieve the pressures and gain control.
Since everyone responds differently to stress, it may take a little bit of time to figure out what works best for you. Start off by looking at some of the things you currently do to manage and cope with stress in your life. Unfortunately, many people deal with stress in unhealthy ways. While these may temporarily reduce your stress levels, they will ultimately cause more damage in the long run.
Unhealthy ways people deal with stress:
- Relying on junk food
- Drinking too much
- Isolating yourself
- Relying on pills/medications to relax
- Sleeping too much
- Taking out your stress on others
Instead of the above, here are a three proven ways to manage your stress while contributing to better emotional and physical health:
Lower Stress Tip #1: Get Moving!
Physical activity is a great way to lower stress and burn away any frustration, anger and tension that might be affecting you. Exercise releases endorphins that will boost your mood and help you feel good again. Plus exercise can be an ideal way to just “clear the mind” and forget about any problems you might have.
Walking, running, biking, swimming, lifting weights, dancing yoga, martial arts, group exercise classes, etc. are all good choices. The key is doing activities that you enjoy and will stick with. Focus on your body, getting the blood flowing, breathing, how the sun feels on your skin, and the satisfaction of a “sweaty” workout.
As you get into a regular routine, be sure to set aside a regular time to exercise and make it a part of your daily schedule. Also let those around you know this is “your time” and don’t let others interfere with your workout.
Lower Stress Tip #1: Adopt A Healthy Diet
Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to deal with stress, so educating yourself on when/what to eat will go a long way in coping with life’s daily stress.
A few tips to consider:
- Start your day off with a healthy breakfast to keep your energy levels up
- Reduce your sugar intake. Sugar provides a temporary “high” that often ends with a crash in mood and energy levels.
- Don’t rely on caffeine. A morning coffee or tea is a great addition to your daily routine, but if you find that you rely on caffeine to get you through the day, it might be a problem.
- Limit your alcohol intake. If you rely on alcohol to deal with a busy or stressful day, that’s a problem. While there might be some temporary relief, it can quickly and easily escalate into a bigger problem. Tackle a workout instead of hitting the bottle after a tough day.
Lower Stress Tip #3: Try Meditation
Prolonged periods of stress cause agitation and can lead to physical damage to many parts of the body. Meditation, on the other hand, affects the body in the exact opposite way that stress does by restoring the body to a calm state and helping the body repair itself from the physical effects of stress.
Meditation can reverse your stress response and help protect you from the effects of chronic stress.
Benefits of meditation include:
- Decreased heart rate
- Slowed breathing
- Blood pressure normalizes
- The body utilizes oxygen more efficiently
- Immune function improves
- The mind clears
- Creativity increases
- Easier to give-up dangerous habits like smoking, drinking and drugs
Keep in mind that meditation does require some practice and it’s not something people often “get” on the first couple of tries. Start off simple by practicing deep breathing and slowly progress by adding more time to your session and focusing on relaxing by connecting the mind with the body. Be patient, be persistent and you’ll soon notice a difference.
Keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to dealing with stress. If you feel the stress in your life is at a point where it’s having a negative effect on you or the people around you, it’s time to take action. Any of the three solutions above can go a long way in helping you deal with stress and regain control of your life!
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.