STRESS: The Ups, Downs, Do’s and Don’ts

We are all familiar with stress — that feeling of emotional or physical tension when our body and mind react to a demand or challenge. Whether we like it or not, stress is an inevitable part of life. So let’s figure out how to manage it and make it work for us! Here’s a quick look at the research and some practical steps:

The Downs and Don’ts of Stress:

~Research is clear that when we become overwhelmed by stress, it can lead to numerous health problems – things such as heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, diabetes, and obesity, not to mention headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, chest pain, a weakened immune system and all too often – sleep problems. I see the latter two all the time in my clinical practice.

~ What we DON’T want to do is focus and replay stressful thoughts; insist on keeping at it with no breaks or rest; give in to cravings of comfort/junk food; miss out on sleep; binge on stimulants (coffee, tobacco); or go it alone….

The Ups and Do’s of Stress:

~ There is a positive side of stress!! Stress can motivate us, empower us, boost brainpower, and change us for the better! Research shows that the “right amount” of stress actually stimulates certain brain chemicals and strengthens neuronal connections, thus increasing concentration and productivity. Stress also motivates us to succeed WHEN we view it as a challenge that we can meet as opposed to an insurmountable task. 

~ What we DO want to do when stressed:

1. BREATHE. The simple practice of deeply inhaling and exhaling calms our nervous system and changes our physiological response.

2. TAKE A BREAK. I don’t know about you, but I find it’s so easy to get stuck in the midst of stress and perseverate on it. That’s exactly when I have to remind myself of the research — when I walk away and take a breather it gives my body and mind a chance to recover and calm down.

3. MOVE! That’s right – get up and go for a walk in the fresh air. When we feel overwhelmed, our stress response is activated and stress hormones flood our body, getting us ready for “fight or flight.” If we sit around, staring at the problem or being paralyzed by the challenge, those hormones simply recirculate. Movement, on the other hand, is a way to release the stress hormones and reset our minds. So go for a quick walks or jog around the block, drop down and do 10 burpees, find your jump rope, basketball, hula hoop, or _____ (you fill in the blank!).  

4. REFRAME. This is an incredibly powerful “tool” we all have access to! Reframing is simply changing the way you look at the situation. When we alter our view and perception of the stressor  — seeing it as a challenge to overcome as opposed to a threat to our well-being, for example — we literally change our experience of the stressor AND the effect it has on our health and wellness! 

5. RELATE. The tendency for many of us is to pull away — maybe even isolate – when stressed. Remember, we are not meant to go it alone; we need one another! And when we’re courageous enough to seek others out, even in hard times, we find the burdens become lighter…   #twoarebetterthanone

Stress is here to stay in our 21st century lives, so let’s make it work for us!