Most of us are familiar with stress. We know its signs and symptoms and we recognize when we are at different levels of stress. We can feel what it’s doing to us physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes we become stressed just thinking about a person, a situation or an event. So what do we DO about stress? Are there some stress busters available that really work? Why should we do anything? Let’s find out.
Symptoms of stress
The American Institute of Stress (AIS) lists 50 signs and symptoms of stress. The first 10 on their list are:
- Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
- Gritting, grinding teeth
- Stuttering or stammering
- Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
- Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
- Lightheadedness, faintness, dizziness
- Ringing, buzzing or “popping sounds”
- Frequent blushing, sweating
- Cold or sweaty hands, feet
- Dry mouth, problems swallowing
Dangers of prolonged stress
According to AIS:
There are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In addition stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis, the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis) and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. In fact, it’s hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected.
Stress in our daily lives
In our daily lives we are bombarded with stressors over and over throughout the day and how we react to them depends on our physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological states at the time. Our reaction to stress depends on many factors. Are we depressed because we had a fight with a significant other? Did we toss and turn all night and woke up tired and grouchy? Did we skip breakfast and now feel weak and shaky? Each of these can make your fuse shorter and your reaction to stressors more heated. Today fingernails on a chalkboard will make you bonkers and tomorrow you may not notice.
Stress busting suggestions
When you’re feeling all stressed out is not the best time to start an anti-stress program but if that’s the only time you think of it then get to it. The best time to start is at a time when you are able to do some self-reflection on what causes you the most stress and what gives you the most relief. Each of us is different so one size does not fit all. But some things that work for many include:
- Eliminate the source of the stress This is the “biggie.” You may find this intimidating, especially if you are the most stressed because of your job, your spouse or some other major facet of your life. If you are in a job or a relationship that is killing you, the best course of action may be to endure the stress of major change, bite the bullet—quit the job or end the relationship. YIKES! Those are hard decisions but may literally save your life.
- Eat a nutritious, adequate diet A daily diet of junk food and fast food leaves you vulnerable to stress as well as other venues of illness. Trade in the sugary energy drinks and sodas for good, pure water as much as possible and, yes, eat “clean” meats, veggies and fruit. You wouldn’t put bad gas in your car and expect it to run so don’t expect your body and brain to function on bad food.
- Meditation/prayer Even five minutes of prayer and/or meditation is a powerful stress reliever. There are many forms of meditation. An Internet search can bring you instructions and guided meditations in print, recordings, and video in a variety of forms. Work with several until you find something that works for you.
- Deep Breathing Take a breath so deep that it expands your belly, hold it for a few seconds and breathe it out through your mouth. You might want to check out “breathing exercises” for variations on breathing techniques. This relaxes you and oxygenates your body.
- Brainwave Entrainment, also referred to as brainwave synchronization and neural entrainment, refers to the capacity of the brain to naturally synchronize its brainwave frequencies with the rhythm of periodic external stimuli, most commonly auditory, visual, or tactile. It can change your excited brainwaves to those associated with deep relaxation or sleep. My personal favorite is Lifeflow’s Project Meditation. However, if you search for Brainwave entrainment you will find a wide selection available. Chose one that works for you.
- Exercise Physical exercise relaxes your body and gets your mind off what worries you. It doesn’t have to be backbreaking to be effective, especially in the evening. Walking is free and a great form of exercise. If you enjoy your surroundings as you walk or run, it’s even better. And better yet, a canine companion ensures that you will get outdoors (or clean up a mess) and have more fun when you do.
- Spend time at the end of the day in a more peaceful activity. Watching the late news tends to keep people from a restful sleep and restful sleep helps you resist the stressors. A suggestion: Turn off the TV at least a half hour before you go to bed and do something that you know relaxes you.
- Monitor your thinking It’s easier to deal with stressors when you have a positive attitude and positive thoughts. William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
- Pet the cat or play with the dog. (I am told that two of most healing things on the planet are the purr of a cat and the wagging tail of a dog.) Try it.
- Dance and sing. Unless you’re on Dancing with the Stars, dancing and singing can be very relaxing.(Even if the only place you can sing is in the shower and the only place you can dance is behind closed doors. Some of us just have two left feet but love to try it anyway.)
This is not an exhaustive list. It’s up to you to discover those things that help you the most. If you noticed that taking medications is not on the list, you noticed correctly. Popping a pill may not be the best course of action, especially if you have a “hangover” after it wears off or if it makes you tired and sluggish.
Hans Seyle, the pioneer in research on stressors said, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” You can live a peaceful, relaxed life if you make the right choices. You are not required to be stressed out over a job, a relationship, or the “daily grind.” But the choice is entirely up to you.