STRESS! We’ve all got it, so what do we do about it?

Unfortunately, stress is a common condition within our modern day society.  The pressure this persistent worry and tension puts on our physical, mental, and emotional systems can be overwhelming to our health and well-being.  According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death.  Some of these include heart disease and cancer.  

The reason our body registers stress on a physical level is to aid in its survival.  Within our ancestral history, much of the stress producing situations were tied to a physical nature.  Mere survival came down to thriving within a physically tough and trying world.  The specific hormones that stress activates within our body was required for the physical exertion our body needed in order to save its own life.  Although the causes of our stress have changed drastically over the last few centuries, our physical reaction has not.  

When we feel stressed or threatened, our nervous system sends out a surge of stress hormones to activate specific parts of our body.  These hormones include adrenaline and cortisol.  The purpose of the flood of the adrenaline hormone is to support the bodies need to react physically or flee from the stress-filled situation.  With an elevated release of adrenaline, our heart rate and blood pressure increases, the air passages of our lungs expands, blood is redistributed to our muscles, and our body alters our metabolism as a way to maximize our blood glucose levels.  This added support primes our body for an epic response to a physically threatening situation.

The cortisol hormone acts as a sort-of buffer or support to the body as a result of our epic response to this threatening situation.  It’s heightened release helps our body control blood sugar levels, regulate our metabolism, reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation.  These are all really important functions within our body to physically threatening challenges.  However, that is not the current state of our stress-filled lifestyles.  The majority of our current stress comes from psychological and emotional demands.  These forms of stress overload our internal systems the same way the physical ones used too, however our bodies built-in response no longer matches the external demands these common stressors hold.  This has lead to chronic stress-related health and emotional issues.  Although our physical body has not adapted to the external triggers of stressful situations, we can take proactive and positive steps to support our bodies ancestral system within these modern stress-filled times.  Below are 5 things we can all do to reduce the affects of stress upon our bodies and our lives.

1. Be aware of what your body is trying to tell you.    

Our body is a great communicator of its needs and red flag symptoms that something is not right within one or more of its internal systems.  For this reason, it is really important to listen to the signals your body is communicating with you about its overall health and well-being.  Digestive problems, low energy, anxious or agitated mood, low sex drive, headaches, muscle tension, dry mouth, racing thoughts, inability to focus, negativity, and poor judgement are just a few of the symptoms your body will communicate to let you know that it is stressed.  Frequent illness is a huge red flag sign that your systems are feeling a direct effect of being overstressed.  Once you become aware of the messages your body is trying to tell you, you can take direct and active steps to reduce and manage the affects of stress.

2. Take care of your internal systems with healthy habits and consistent maintenance.

Making things last in life is all about taking care of it and keeping up with consistent maintenance.  Well, our physical bodies are no different.  In order to function to the best of our ability, we need to be at our best possible health.  There are a few essential factors that our bodies require to be the best that they can be.  The first is frequent hydration.  The significance of water to the functioning of our bodies can not be emphasized enough.  In fact, water is SO important to the proper functioning of our body that I will be dedicating a separate post about the benefits and function of water within our human body. 

The second thing our body needs is a healthy, balanced, and moderate diet.  Now this looks different for each individual.  By paying attention to the affects that various kinds of food have upon your body, you will be able to determine what works well for your body’s needs and what doesn’t seem to support its overall health and well-being.  If you struggle with knowing what is best for your body, consider contacting a nutritionist to guide and support you.  

The third thing we all need is regular exercise or physical activity.  This regular movement of your body helps keep the energy flowing to all parts of your systems, it delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, it helps strengthen your heart and lung function, it activates the release of hormones that leave you feeling happier and more positive, and it produces healthy changes in the parts of your brain that regulate stress and anxiety.  The good news about the benefits of physical activity upon the brain and body is that its positive affects do not seem to be dependent upon the intensity of the activity.  This means just getting up and getting active is enough to improve the internal health of your overall well-being.

The last aspect of daily requirements that our body needs is sleep.  Getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep can make a world of difference in your mood and stress levels.  Adequate sleep supports a better sex life, reduction in pain, lower risk of injury, better mood, clearer thinking, and reduces yo-yo weight.

 3. Make a conscious choice.

Sometimes in our modern day life, stress is self-imposed.  What I mean by this is that there are times when we allow small, insignificant life triggers to get the better of us.  When we are tired, agitated, or simply stressed, people often hold onto the little things until they grow into big, pressing problems.  For this reason, it is important to take a moment and acknowledge any agitated or hurt feelings.  Perhaps we can recognize that much of the annoyance is due to other factors, like our mood or lack of good physical care.  When this happens, we are then able to make a conscious decision to STOP the process of allowing this little thing to stress us out and reek havoc upon our physical internal systems.  Now, there will be times when we feel that our hurt feelings or agitation to the situation is more than just us being off for the day.  When this occurs, we can still mitigate the affects of stress by realizing that there may be a bigger issue at hand.  If so, we can take appropriate, healthy steps to correct it.  Either way, we are staying attuned to our body, touching base with our feelings, and taking a proactive step to protect our vital internal systems from unnecessary stress.

   4. Create a ‘Go-To’ list of stress reducing activities and use them frequently.

We all have activities that almost immediately melt the stress away and make us feel better.  These need to be your ‘Go-To’ activities to prevent a build up of stress and to remove any stress-filled tension that you may be holding.  I believe it is important to have at least 5 options for stress-reduction.  It is a good idea to include some activities that only take a matter of minutes to implement or complete.  For instance, you could choose listening to classical music, or taking a short walk.  Maybe doing a few slow, deep breathing exercises works for you.  The reason it is important to have a couple of quick, easy, and readily available stress reduction and management techniques is because stress can pop up out of nowhere.  If your ‘Go-To’ list only consists of activities like the beach, or playing a sport, petting an animal, etc., you will not be able to immediately activate your stress relieving activity.  Although those ‘Go-To’s’ do provide important outlets for stress reduction and management, they will not always be available to come to your aid in immediate stressful situations.  

5. Know when to say ‘YES’ and when to say ‘NO’

This goes back to the idea that stress is often self-imposed.  Many people play a part in creating their own stress-filled situations.  I am guilty of this myself.  We overcommit to things that don’t bring us joy or pleasure, and under commit to the things that do.  It is true that a part of being human is doing things we don’t always want to do, however this really should be the exception instead of the rule.  What joy or benefit are you bringing to a project or function that you really don’t want to be a part of?  If you are saying yes to more than a handful of things that you really do not want to do, it may be a good idea to look at the reasons why you feel prone to saying yes when you really want to say no.  The same can be said for the other scenario.  If there are activities, events, functions, or social gatherings that you really would like to be a part of yet you frequently say no to these activities, look at the reasons why.  Is it because you are too tired?  Is the reason rooted in your overloaded schedule of activities that you don’t really want to be doing?  Part of managing our stress levels has to do with building a stress reduced life.  This type of lifestyle can only come from the choices and commitments that we make. 

If you would like more information on ways to manage or reduce your stress, feel free to contact my office today.  You can reach me at (386)507-9300, or send me an email at epcoachingservices@gmail.com.

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