Stress is a part of life. Being late for a meeting, speaking in front of a crowd, interviewing for a job, rushing to meet a deadline — all trigger the body to cope by releasing certain hormones to activate our survival instinct.
But too much or unrelenting stress causes your body to constantly be in this fight-or-flight mode…and can really take a toll on your mental and physical health.
So, the next time you feel like screaming out of frustration — go ahead! Screaming can be a good stress reliever, after all. But here are some other (and quieter!) stress management techniques that can be even more effective.
Techniques for Immediate Stress Reduction
Breathing seems so fundamental, doesn’t it? So, it’s amazing to think how effective this one simple task can be at helping to relieve stress. Here are a couple of breathing exercises you can try:
Deep breathing. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Let the air expand your belly more than your chest. Breathe out through your nose or mouth, and let your belly deflate. Repeat several times.
4-7-8 breathing. Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth right behind your top teeth. You’ll leave it there throughout the entire breathing exercise. Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound. Inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale (whoosh) through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat three times.
The wrong kind of stress can kill creativity. But the flip side is also true — creativity can help reduce stress! So if you’re stressed, turn to a simple creative activity such as painting, crafting, playing an instrument, or woodworking. Or get out your crayons and colored pencils! Adult coloring books are all the rage these days.
Part of the theory of why this works is that actively creating something is a way to exert control when we feel out of control. Things that cause us stress often fall into this category — circumstances or situations that we feel like life has just thrown at us. Creating gives us a freedom to manifest something of our own doing, to shape our own world, even if just in a small way.
3. Get in nature
Sure, a nice hike in the woods will do it, if you’re into that sort of thing. But even spending 20 minutes sitting on a park bench while you eat your lunch has proven beneficial. If those aren’t possible, just putting a plant in your room or spending a few minutes looking at pictures of nature can also help.
4. Practice gratitude
Gratitude can be a way to help restore balance to an overstressed, anxious brain, and protect against future stressors. There are a few ways to practice gratitude. You may want to start a gratitude journal to help you reflect each day. Or show someone in your life how much you appreciate them with a note or small gift.
In a stressful situation, it could help you to go through an “Imagine Life Without This” exercise where you reframe a negative stressor into an object of your gratitude.
5. Skip the coffee.
This one is controversial — and may not work for you. On the other hand, it could help tremendously if you are a high consumer of coffee. Both caffeine and stress work similarly in the body to increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and chronically high levels of cortisol are correlated with the negative health consequences of stress. If you’re already experiencing symptoms of chronic stress, you certainly don’t want to add more cortisol into the mix by consuming a lot of caffeine.
There are conflicting studies on whether coffee (or rather the caffeine in coffee) is more harmful or helpful. The general consensus is small to moderate amounts of caffeine can lift your mood and give you a boost. But if you drink a lot of coffee throughout the day, it’s worth taking a break, cutting back, or substituting it with a lower-caffeine beverage, like green tea, to see if it improves your symptoms.
Stress Reduction for the Long Term
It’s important to make lifestyle changes when you can, in order to decrease the amount of unhealthy stress that builds up in your life. You can start by making habits of:
- exercising consistently;
- eating a healthier diet;
- nurturing healthy relationships;
- finding time for hobbies.
Incorporating these habits into your day-to-day life will enhance your quality of life and help you combat stress in the long run. When stressful events come along, you’ll be that much better equipped to handle them.
If there is something in your life causing you an extreme amount of unhealthy stress, do what you can to remove yourself from the situation. Toxic people or workplaces are not worth it in the long run.
Stress: A Silent Killer
Here at In and Out Express Care, many patients come in to our urgent care clinic with chronic headaches, muscle pain, chest pain, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues. These symptoms may be indicative of any number of illnesses — or they could simply be a result of a stressful lifestyle. Over the long term, chronic stress can also cause cardiovascular problems (heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes), sexual dysfunction, ulcers, and more. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, chronic stress is the root cause of more than 60% of all disease, including the six leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, fatal accidents, suicide, and cirrhosis of the liver).
If you’re feeling unwell, come in to one of our four convenient urgent care locations throughout Hampton Roads. Regardless of the reason for your visit, stress will make your condition worse. Don’t be surprised if the doctor recommends a reduction of the stress in your life, no matter what your diagnosis happens to be.
Coloring books and nature walks may seem like unimportant or frivolous activities, but don’t write them off just yet! They could be more important than you think for a healthier, happier, longer life.
Now, where are those crayons?