Stress Management

Stress is the body’s mental, emotional, and physiological response to any situation that is new, threatening, frightening, or exciting. Stress should not be avoided entirely. A certain amount of stress is necessary for optimum health, performance, and well-being. However, your mind and body work most efficiently and effectively when you are relaxed. Performance and enjoyment decline when you feel “stressed out.” Stress can be controlled with simple relaxation techniques. For the best results, set aside some time every day for relaxation using one or more of the following:

 

Exercise

Regular aerobic exercise is one of the best methods for reducing stress. Exercise allows us to play out the instinctive fight-or-flight response (e.g., to use the muscles that are tensed for action and to reduce the adrenaline being pumped into the bloodstream). Numerous studies demonstrate that exercise reduces the intensity of stress, shortens the time it take to recover from stress, and can help ward off illnesses that are associated with experiencing too much stress. On the other hand, overdoing exercise can be hazardous and even increase tension and stress. Moderation is key. Balance your exercise by alternating more vigorous days with mild days and always keep it fun!

 

Meditation

This is a mental exercise that affects body processes thus producing physical benefits. The purpose of meditation is to gain control over your attention – to internally quiet down allowing you to choose what to focus on and to block out distracting thoughts. Meditation is a simple and very valuable stress-management technique that produces the body’s relaxation response. Some physical benefits of this practice include decreased muscle tension, increased blood flow, decreased blood pressure, decreased anxiety, fears, and phobias, improved quality of sleep, and increased positive mental health.

 

Essential Elements to Meditation

A quiet comfortable environment. A place where you won’t be disturbed. The more experienced you are with meditation the more places you will be able to use it. A mental device (unchanging object) or mantra (any word or phrase repeated silently). This will help you shut out outside stimuli and keep you calm.
A passive attitude. Your attention should be focused on repeating the mantra and not on how you feel. Do not “try” to become relaxed; let it happen. A comfortable position. This is necessary to avoid any undue muscular tension; however, you don’t want to be so comfortable that you fall asleep.

Close your eyes and breathe easily. Repeat your mantra uninterrupted for approximately 10 to 20 minutes. When you stop meditating, give your body time to adjust. Take several deep breaths and stretch. Try to meditate twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes each time.

 

Abdominal Breathing

Most of us breathe in short shallow breaths, expanding only the chest – especially when feeling stressed. This is termed thoracic breathing and is not the proper, most healthful way to breathe. It does not allow the lungs to fill and empty completely, which can actually increase muscle tension. Breathing from your abdomen allows more oxygen to enter the body and relaxes the muscles. Practice abdominal breathing at least once a day so that it becomes natural. Here’s how:

 

  1. Inhale and exhale fully through your nose.
  2. Inhale very slowly and push out your abdomen as though it was a  balloon inflating. Move your chest as little as possible.
  3. Exhale slowly and allow the stomach to flatten.
  4. Repeat the pattern on each “in” breath let the belly inflate, and on each “out” breath let it flatten.
  5. Each “out” breath is an opportunity to rid the body of tension.


Relationships

Studies show that long-term, loving relationships provide people with important stress management tools. Chronic stress can have a negative impact on your health, but having a strong social support network of family and friends can help minimize the negative physiological impacts of stress. (The remains of the workday: impact of job stress and exhaustion on marital interaction in police couples. Roberts, N. A., Levenson, R. W., Journal of Marriage and Family 63(4):1052-1067.)

 

Diet

Your diet has an important part in your stress management program. A poor diet with a lack of nutrients can increase your susceptibility to stress by causing fatigue and irritability. This is even more likely to happen to people who are eating too many meals away from home, missing meals, or eating on the run. Preparation of good food takes time, and good food is necessary to achieving optimal health and relaxation. Healthy food and the nutrition that it provides is vital for life! Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine. It is a stimulant and magnifies the effects of stress.
  • Limit foods containing sugar especially highly refined sugar. This processed additive robs the body of many vitamins and minerals essential for proper body and mind function. A lack of these essential vitamins and minerals can induce anxiety and inability to cope with stressful situations. Learn to use natural sweeteners, such as stevia and brown rice syrup.
  • Avoid damaged fat. These include processed fats, hydrogenated oils, fried foods, and heated polyunsaturated oils. These fats can be harmful to mental health because they reduce circulation (blood flow) especially to the brain and heart. This prevents the brain from getting adequate oxygen, which means that thinking becomes dull, sluggish, and weak.
  • Avoid alcohol. This beverage is a powerful depressant drug that inevitably increases stress.
  • Emphasize nutrient-rich food: These include fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fermented dairy products, and grass-fed meats.

 

Some Last Tips

  • Get plenty of restful sleep. Most people need 7 to 8 hours. Don’t lose sleep over things you cannot control!
  • Tight muscles can be a result of stress. Furthermore, stress can be perpetuated by tight muscles. Regular massages can help alleviate stressful tension built up in the muscles and relax your mind.
  • Balance work and play. Regular recreation is your fun time and needed to enjoy life!
  • Time management is a tough task in this day and age. Analyze how you are spending your time, set goals, and prioritize.
  • Find time each day to appreciate your special experiences and the gifts around you.
  • Look at the bright side of each situation. YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF YOU! Positive emotions and laughter play an important role in keeping well!

 

Information resource: Robbins, Gwen, Powers, Debbie, Bugess, Sharon. 1994. A Wellness Way of Life. Brown and Benchmark Publishers.