In moderation, stress can benefit your health & safety. The physical response brought on by stress can provide more oxygen to your brain, giving you an edge in responding properly to a problem, as well as ignite the “fight or flight” response, organizing your body’s resources to a cause necessary to keep you alive. (Think: Running from a predator in our ancestor’s day or jumping out of the road when about to be hit by a car.)
However, chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body. In our modern day society, we are dealing with stress from every angle. A demanding boss or client, a deadline quickly approaching, a misbehaving child, a sick relative, a divorce or even happy life events like moving, getting married or planning an event. Our body responds with a variety of symptoms that affect our overall health & well being.
Stress triggers the production of hormones called cortisol & adrenaline. These are beneficial in small doses, to get us out of harm’s way, such as the previous examples, but chronic production of these hormones cause a laundry list of physical symptoms, including:
- Excess weight (especially around the abdomen)
- Inflammation in the body
- Tightening of muscles that lead to headaches & other body aches (neck, shoulder, stomach)
- Heartburn, acid reflux
- Increased blood pressure
There are many ways to combat stress, but the three I find easiest and most effective are:
1. Eating proper foods.
Natural, unprocessed, fiber-rich foods combined with protein keep the brain sharp, strong & feeling good, as well as feed the neurotransmitters that keep us balanced, calm, alert & thinking clearly.
These healthy foods, along with probiotics, keep healthy bacteria in the gut, which not only improve gut health, but brain health, as the neurotransmitters that keep us feeling good mentally & balance our mood are produced in the gut (as opposed to popular belief that they are produced in the brain).
2. Taking “down time” to process your thoughts.
Most of us go, go, go all day long, with a laundry list of “to dos,” not taking down time that is necessary to process the events and feelings we experience in daily life.
There are simple, effective ways to do this:
- Learn a breathing technique that works for you. This could be as simple as taking 5 or 10 deep breathes which will reset the body & mind.
- Learning some type of meditation. This can be just a few short minutes a day or a more regular practice twice a day. Mantra based meditations are extremely effective in clearing the mind and allowing stress to dissolve. You can find teachers in your area or look online for some great tutorials. You can also search for apps and websites that offer free guided meditations that will stream free from your phone. This is a great tool for beginners’ meditation.
- Practice a few basic yoga poses. The scientifically proven benefits of yoga are vast for the mind, body and spirit. You can find a studio near you to practice at or start a home practice. I have a free guided 30-day yoga challenge that will take you through 30 poses – 1 each day – helping you to build your confidence and practice if you’d prefer to learn before walking in a studio.
3. Spend more time doing things that lift you up (and less time doing things that bring you down).
It sounds obvious, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to see the forest for the trees.
Here are a few things to consider:
- First and foremost, screen the media you allow into your life. This means television, radio, music and social media. What is adding to your happiness and what is taking it away? If you are someone who gets depressed watching the news, think about lessening the amount of negative news stories you watch. If you are someone who needs more energy, maybe spa isn’t the best option for when you need some energy to complete your day. On the contrary, if you are someone who needs help winding down after a busy day, put spa music to use for you. Everything has a place and time for its use. Start to realize when you need what.
- Next, screen the people. As I discuss in my book, Back to Balance, you are the sum of the people you surround yourself with. Consider the 5 people you spend the most time with and who they make you feel. Do they lift you up? Do you feel happy, energized and fulfilled after being with them? Or do you feel worse than before you saw them? These are important questions to consider. And more important, is taking action on the answers.
- Finally, find activities that you enjoy. For everyone reading this, it means something different, but the basic gist is to ENJOY LIFE! For you, that could be spending time in nature, with loved ones or animals. It could mean heading to the pool on a warm summer day or the ski slopes in the winter. But, the most important thing to do is incorporate activities into your life that you enjoy and allows you to relax and have fun.
To sum up, learn what feeds your soul & do more of that!