You over there feeling a little bit dispirited and discouraged.
You that feels that when life gives you one good thing, it often seems to grasp hold and seize something you cherish in it’s place.
You whose heart is brittle and mind is heavy-laden.
I’m here to tell you that I understand. And that whatever words I say to you, no matter how genuinely encouraging they are, I understand that there will always be that little bit of sorrow and anguish that I just cannot take away from you, no matter how hard I try.
It’s inevitable. Life will always come with setbacks and obstacles, regardless of how determined we are at avoiding them.
Life is tough and this is why we need to be tougher.
One of the things that I cannot emphasize enough is learning how to manage and take charge over your stress. From personal experience, either my own or seeing it from a loved one, I strongly believe that stress is one of the leading causes of triggering more serious health issues — both physically and mentally.
Stress hits us every day and in different ways — whether you’re a busy mom trying to discipline your children, dealing with really busy times at work and reaching deadlines, relationship issues or financial problems. Stress is something that although can be to our benefit at times (pushing our limits and making us a little more tough), it most often detrimental to our well-being.
Our bodies are tough; we are tough. It was designed to handle some stress, but long-term and chronic stress is not okay and it will produce some really negative health issues.
When stress starts interfering with your ability to live a normal life for an extended period, it becomes even more dangerous. The longer the stress lasts, the worse it is for both your mind and body. You might feel fatigued, unable to concentrate or irritable for no good reason, for example. But chronic stress causes wear and tear on your body.
Stress can make existing problems worse.
You may feel normal physically (with the exception of a little headache or occasional back or neck pain every now and then), but your body is retaliating and you don’t even know it.
Did you know:
The human body reacts to stress by first pumping adrenaline and then cortisol into the bloodstream to focus the mind and body for immediate action — a response that has ensured our survival over the millennia. The adrenaline rush from the initial stress response can occasionally pose health risks, according to Cohen, but the more significant hazard is the subsequent release of cortisol. Generally considered a bad stress hormone, cortisol does serve many important functions — one of which is turning off inflammation. But when chronic stress exposes the body to a relentless stream of cortisol, as happens when stress is constant, cells become desensitized to the hormone, “causing inflammation to go wild,” Cohen says. Long-term chronic inflammation damages blood vessels and brain cells, leads to insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes) and promotes painful joint diseases (via aarp.org).
So, although I don’t have the magic pill or the magic words to say that can relieve you of all of life’s stumbling blocks, I can help you by providing some insight on how you can take charge over your stress and regain your inner (and outer) strength again.
What you can do
Reducing your stress levels can not only make you feel better right now, but may also protect your health long-term.
In one study, researchers examined the association between “positive affect” — feelings like happiness, joy, contentment and enthusiasm — and the development of coronary heart disease over a decade. They found that for every one-point increase in positive affect on a five-point scale, the rate of heart disease dropped by 22 percent.
While the study doesn’t prove that increasing positive affect decreases cardiovascular risks, the researchers recommend boosting your positive affect by making a little time for enjoyable activities every day.
Other strategies for reducing stress include:
- Identify what’s causing stress. Monitor your state of mind throughout the day. If you feel stressed, write down the cause, your thoughts and your mood. Once you know what’s bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it. That might mean setting more reasonable expectations for yourself and others or asking for help with household responsibilities, job assignments or other tasks. List all your commitments, assess your priorities and then eliminate any tasks that are not absolutely essential.
- Build strong relationships. Relationships can be a source of stress. Research has found that negative, hostile reactions with your spouse cause immediate changes in stress-sensitive hormones, for example. But relationships can also serve as stress buffers. Reach out to family members or close friends and let them know you’re having a tough time. They may be able to offer practical assistance and support, useful ideas or just a fresh perspective as you begin to tackle whatever’s causing your stress.
- Walk away when you’re angry. Before you react, take time to regroup by counting to 10. Then reconsider. Walking or other physical activities can also help you work off steam.
- Exercise. Exercise increases the production of endorphins, your body’s natural mood-booster. Commit to a daily walk or other form of exercise — a small step that can make a big difference in reducing stress levels. Yoga is a fantastic form of exercise that blends the mental benefits of meditation which combined really helps you to achieve an overall great mind and body balance. Research shows that activities like yoga and relaxation exercises not only help reduce stress, but also boost immune functioning.
- Rest your mind. To help ensure you get the recommended seven or eight hours of shut-eye, cut back on caffeine, remove distractions such as television or computers from your bedroom and go to bed at the same time each night. Sometimes a nice warm bath with epsom salts is great before bed coupled with a warm cup of chamomile tea or warm milk.
- Live, Laugh, Love! This is an easy one. Remember, we cannot control everything, but we can control how we choose to live our lives. Dance, and dance a lot (take up a Zumba class with a friend, dance with your kids and spouse, take up a salsa dance class with the hubby). Lots and lots of hugs because hugs are known to provide oxytocin (the love hormone) and certainly an aid in decreasing stress. Do silly things with your kids, puppy, BFF, and revel in their smiles and laughter too. Remember how blessed you are. Travel! And it doesn’t require saving huge chunks off every pay cheque for the entire year (unless you want to save up for a European backpacking tour – by all means, go ahead!), traveling to closer locations on off-seasons help reduce travel costs, or even just taking staycations in and around your city exploring attractions and restaurants with someone you love dearly is a great stress-buster!
- Eat Well. I’m not talking about stuffing your face with comfort food like a carton of heavenly hash or a plate of mac and cheese (although moderation is key and indulging in these goodies is OK every now and then), but eating superfoods that can help ease the stress.
Depression and anxiety is linked to vitamin deficiencies, and these superfoods are just what you need:
- Asparagus: folic acid – depression is linked to low levels of folic acid.
- Avocado: B Vitamins – we need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells, and feelings of anxiety may be rooted in a B vitamin deficiency.
- Blueberries: antioxidants & Vit C
- Milk: a glass of warm milk before bed is a time-tested remedy for insomnia and fidgetiness.
- Almonds: Vitamins B2 & E – both of these nutrients help bolster the immune system during times of stress.
- Oranges: Vitamin C helps lower blood pressure and the stress hormone, cortisol.
- Salmon: a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids helps keep cortisol and adrenaline from spiking when you’re feeling tense.
- Spinach: magnesium, the mineral that helps regulate cortisol levels and promote feelings of wellbeing.
- Turkey: Tryptophan signals the brain to release the feel-good chemical serotonin, which promotes calmness and even tiredness.
- Oatmeal: offers the calm-inducing hormone, serotonin
- Get (h)APPy! Smartphones are always by our side (well, in my case it is…) and there’s many great reasons why they’re fantastic and one reason is that they can also help with managing stress and/or anxiety with a plethora of wonderful apps!
Apps that I enjoy and are worth the download include:
thinkFULL (iOS): A newly created app by TELUS team members and in collaboration with a number of volunteers, youth partners and supporters like Dr. Stan Kutcher, CMHA BC, Here to Help BC, mindyourmind, MJB Technologies, Dr. Chris Williams and Kelty Resource Centre., thinkFULL is powered by a rich library of life tips for relieving stress, solving problems and living well in general.
With thinkFull you can record your stress level along with life events to build self awareness; personalize life tips that help you achieve healthy life balance; and recognize patterns in your stress, and start to solve the real problems.
Sleep Cycle (iOS), Sleep as Android (Android): Lack of sleep or low-quality sleep may be what’s causing your stress right now, and hacking your sleep cycles may be the solution to your worries. Sleep Cycle and Sleep as Android are smart alarm clock apps that track your sleep via your phone’s sensors and wake you up during the lightest sleep phase so you don’t wake up groggy. You’ll have access to detailed graphs about how you sleep and will even be able to analyze how various factors, such as your levels of physical activity or a meeting with your boss, affect your sleep patterns. Both apps also offer nature sounds and binaural beats to help you fall asleep faster and deeper. Sleep Cycle is $1.99, while Sleep as Android gives you sleep tracking features free for the first two weeks before charging you $4.49.
7 Minute Workout (iOS, Android): Exercise is a great way to boost your mood, and it has plenty of other benefits besides. But between work, family and your social obligations, not a lot of people have time to go to the gym or do an hour’s worth of working out. The seven-minute workout aims to solve that problem. If you don’t have an hour for a workout, it’s still likely you have seven minutes. It’s just seven minutes, but it’s seven minutes of intense bodyweight exercises, from squats to push-ups and planks, to make you feel you’ve worked out for an hour.
Happify (iOS, Android): Eighty-six percent of people who use Happify report that they feel happier after two months of using the app. That’s because Happify is based on the five things that make us happy: thanking, giving, savoring, empathizing and aspiring. Upon opening the app, you can choose a track among many based on what you want to achieve, such as coping better with stress, dealing with negative thoughts or building self-confidence. Then you will be given various daily activities, games and quizzes to help you achieve your goal. One of these activities is Shine On, which lets you list three of your day’s biggest victories. It’s like a gratitude journal that helps keep you aware of the good things happening to you. Happify is free for the lite version, but you can also unlock more content activities with various subscriptions ranging from $11.99 to $55.99.
Plasticity (iOS, Android): For most of us, we spend majority of our waking hours at work, so it only makes sense that our employers take our stresses and anxieties seriously. Plasticity is an app that offers to address workplace happiness with short training activities to improve emotional intelligence and deepen relationships between coworkers. Every day, instead of whining and complaining about your boss, you’ll be asked to name one aspect of your work that you are grateful for. For some people, it may not be much, but the mere fact of having something to earn a living with when so many others are starving is enough.
Personal Zen (iOS): If ever there was a game developed to ease your stresses, it’s not Candy Crush Saga and it’s most definitely not Angry Birds. It’s Personal Zen, an iOS-only app that helps you train your brain to focus on the positive things. Personal Zen has been clinically proven, complete with a study published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal, to lower the anxiety levels of people prone to anxiety. The game takes place on a plane of green grass, where two blue sprites, one with a happy face and one with an angry face, bury themselves under the grass. Once they’re gone, your goal is to trace the line that leads to the hole of the happy face. It’s easy enough, and you only need to play 25 minutes every day to get the app’s benefits.
- Get help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional who can help you learn how to manage stress effectively. He or she can help you identify situations or behaviors that contribute to your chronic stress and then develop an action plan for changing them.
Here’s to less stress and more happiness and peace this year and onwards! I wish you well.
Do you have any tips on reducing stress? Please share below in the comments — I’d love to hear them!