As we approach one of the biggest holidays of the year, I know many of you can feel the stress bearing down on you – from gifts, to parties, to kids, to food, to travel arrangements, and (especially) to family matters, these things add up! Stress is no joke, and it affects almost every part of our lives: body, mind, spirit, and even social life. We all must find ways to cope under the pressure of life, and that’s why this post is all about--how you can start combating stress, right now.
But before we get to the ways in which you can deal with stress, let’s take a look at what stress is and exactly WHY it’s such a blow to our health.
Stress, in simple terms, is really a state of mental tension as a result of strenuous or demanding circumstances. What most people don’t realize, though, is that mental stress translates into a dramatic effect on your body. So, even though you’re experience mental fatigue and anxiety, your body is exhibiting its own problems.
Why? Well, first off, mental stress can quickly turn into a state where your body assumes the fight or flight response. In its most recognized form, this response is what happens when an individual is in a dangerous situation. In other words, a person either fights or runs. When faced with constant stress, however, the body reacts in the same way, only now the person doesn’t run – he or she just fights.
When the body is placed in a constant state of agitation in this way, adrenaline and cortisol are released. In small doses these hormones are essential to survival, yet in a stressful situation they can both be really harmful. Adrenaline, for example, increases your heart rate and blood pressure – both of which are detrimental long term. Cortisol, on the other hand, drastically alters the functioning of the immune system whilst suppressing appetite – again, both situations are extremely harmful in the long term. Here are some of the harmful side-effects of the prolonged exposure to these hormones:
But wait, before you feel as though you need to cancel Christmas this year, the good news is that there are ways with which to conquer stress. As with everything, your body just needs ways to cope, heal, and maintain a stress free routine. Here are some ideas I’d urge you to try:
It sounds so simple, but yet so many of us are feeding our stress by the way we breathe.
Stop and take notice of how you are breathing now, and how you breathe when you feel stressed. Is your breathing slow, deep, and from your belly, or is it shallow and more in your chest? Do you feel tightness in your jaw, your neck, your shoulders, even your pelvic area? This is quite common with “stress breathing.”
Now, take a nice deep breath through your nose, letting your belly expand out as you inhale. Let that jaw and those shoulders soften and relax. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. Rest and repeat. Did you know that this kind of breathing actually calms down your nervous system? It’s a very simple but effective way to decrease stress, lower anxiety, and even reduce pain. Try it the next time you’re waiting in traffic, in the long checkout line at the store, or any other time that you find stressful.
Yoga or Other Exercise
Have you heard the saying that “getting onto the mat is the hardest part”? Well, that’s true. Trying gentle stretches and relaxation techniques, such as those found in yoga, is an excellent way to reduce stress levels. Namaste!
Not really into yoga? A brisk walk or run, some swimming, or a good sweaty workout at the gym or at home can do wonders to clear your mind and help your body process that stress in a positive way. Go and Move!
Make Sure you’re Getting Enough Sleep
Now, I know a lack of sleep is a side effect of a stressful state, but making the effort to get into bed earlier, turning your phone off at least an hour before bed, avoiding all screens in the bedroom, and creating a comfortable sleeping environment, is a definite way to help you release some of that stress.
This tip may not be at the top of your list, but I promise that a little quiet time, meditation, gentle music, or whatever works for you, will help you relax. Even 5 minutes can make a huge difference! Remember to breathe deeply and slowly, focusing on the present moment and being thankful for the opportunity to be alive.
Avoid excessively fatty, sugary, or salty foods, as these generally alter your mood and may aggravate the symptoms of stress. Why not try cooking new dishes or making tried and tested family-favorites? Take the time out to appreciate the love of food in a healthful, mindful way.
Truly, this is perhaps the most impressive stress-buster out there. Laugh with all your might – watch that comedy show, spend time with the relative who makes you giggle, do childlike, magical things that bring a smile to your face. Stress doesn’t stand a chance against unabashed happiness.
Spend Time with Loved Ones
No explanation needed. Love fiercely, wake up early, and sit down to a cup of java with your favorite people in the world.
Listen to Your Body
If you’re tired, have a rest. If you’re saying “yes” too often, say “no”. I often mention the importance of self-care: if you don’t take care of yourself first, it’s going to be hard to take care of others. Remember that the world won’t stop just because you take an hour for yourself. It’s so important to listen to your body – our natural instinct is to do what’s best for us. Just become quiet and listen closely… you’ll know what to do.
See a Physical Therapist
If your spasms don’t seem to ease, or you are in constant physical pain and discomfort due to stress, don’t wait. Those little aches and that pain can increase over time. The best thing you can do is to see a professional, qualified physical therapist to help you recover and feel your best. With some treatment and guidance, you’ll be ready for whatever this holiday season throws at you.
So, there you have it: essential tips for combating stress this holiday season and beyond. And remember to drink enough water! Don’t let stress affect your mind and body – take control and put the smile back on your face. Keep the adrenaline for unwrapping the gifts, and the cortisol for the chocolaty desserts – don’t let stress steal your joy.
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We help active men and women get control over leakage, pain, or other problems “down there”, even if other treatments haven't worked. Even if they've been told nothing can be done. Even if it seems hopeless.
Laura McKaig PT
Specialist Physical Therapist