It feels bad. It looks bad. It’s everywhere.
Even the word makes me feel stressed. You’ve certainly seen it in the news: stress destroys our health. Even if you haven’t heard the scientific evidence on how stress kills the body, surely at some point in your life you’ve felt its effects.
Well, I’m here to tell you not to stress about stress! There are things we can do about it – and not just mental tricks to make you feel better, but real, proven-effective medicines that can reduce the harm to your health.
So, what does stress do to us? I’ve personally witnessed a member of my family nearly take ‘the last train to glory’ because of chronic, severe stress (that is, he nearly died of sudden, acute heart disease). After an emergency surgery and big lifestyle changes, this same person looked years younger and loads healthier.
Those lifestyle changes primarily targeted stressors: the things that cause us stress. This anecdote of mine addresses the most well-known and most deadly symptom of chronic stress: sudden heart attack and death.
If that’s not bad enough to have everyone who’s chronically stressed making big life changes, here’s a very morbid list of the diseases correlated with high stress levels…
• High Blood Pressure
• Heart Attack
• Sudden Death
• Permanent Hair Loss
• Sexual Dysfunction
• Menstrual Dysfunction
• Abnormal Heart Rhythm
• Personality Disorder
• Eating Disorders
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Ulcerative Colitis (Inflammation and ulcers in the colon)
• Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
• Worsens all diseases relative to immunity
Alright. I think we can all agree that we don’t want those conditions. But remember – I want all of us to not stress over stress! And that’s because we can all do many things to get the stress-demons off our backs.
Luckily there are methods to reduce the harm stress has on our bodies! Here we will focus on techniques to reduce stress without diet and medicine. So, let’s discuss some techniques to significantly reduce your stress.
First and foremost: we can all drop our stressors.
The number one source of stress in our modern society is our occupations. Some, lucky few, have careers they love and wake up excited to go to work. The other 99% of people need to consider something important: what’s the point of making money and buying nice things if you end up with the above listed conditions?
Changing occupations makes a massive difference to stress levels. I do, of course, understand that some people can’t make that change due to their circumstances. But a majority of people suffering from chronic, work-related stress can change their lives. Whether that means living with a little less or (for some) selling the boat, finding an occupation you love could make all the difference in your life.
Can you enjoy going on vacation if you suffer from depression, heart disease and chronic bowel irritability? Of course not.
There are many other ways to reduce stress levels that don’t require such a huge life-change. Here’s some examples…
- Exercise: This is one of the easiest things to include in your day to reduce your stress and feel more optimistic. The best part? You only need to do light exercise for 10-30 minutes. This can include a short walk outside, light stretching, jogging, cycling (easy on the knees), and even putting on some music and dancing around the house. Two more benefits of this practice: you cleanse the body through sweat and lymphatic system movement (further reducing chemical stress), and studies have shown that even brief, light exercise improves mood and alleviates depression.
- Give Yourself More Time: We all can get stuck in a rut as far as a daily routine goes. Eventually, we start feeling like we have to do things, and our day gets packed. This is when any little thing that comes up that takes even a moment of your time can stress out the entire schedule, with you ‘running behind’ all day. I’ve seen someone stressed beyond belief because they were getting phone calls more often that day, and they were running out of time to go to a local garden center and browse the flower selection. Re-evaluate. Going to the garden center today is the same as going tomorrow, unless your schedule is too packed. So, how to remedy this? Find the unnecessary parts of your schedule and eliminate them, if your time-constraints stress you out. If you’re running out of time to do something you wanted to do today, and you stress out all day about it, and then turn around and watch 2 hours of television that night, your priorities are out of order. We can all find time in our day.
- Take a Break: When we feel like we have an enormous load on our shoulders, sometimes the best thing to do is to completely drop it. Allow me a comparison. Imagine someone is putting more and more weight on your back, gradually increasing until it becomes as much as you can handle. You walk around with that weight, and you get more and more fatigued. If you keep walking with that load on your back, eventually you’ll collapse to the floor and be unable to get back up. But, should you take that weight off of yourself for ten or twenty minutes, you can go back, pick it up, and carry it much longer. The load even feels lighter when you first get back to it. Well, the same goes for stress. If you’ve done the above recommendation and given yourself more time – enjoy it. Take a break. Read a book, or take a shower with aromatherapy. Even better, go outside for a short walk or watch the sunset. Your mind and body will feel refreshed, and suddenly everything will seem like less of a big deal.
- Talk About It: Women are typically wonderful about this – expressing themselves to friends and loved ones. But, many of us men have been raised to ‘keep trucking on,’ accepting stress as part of our lives and something not worth talking about. We start thinking things like “of course work is stressful,” instead of realizing that we don’t have to be stressed. Because of this, a lot of men accept stress into their lives and don’t try to vent it. If you have anyone willing to lend an ear or two and let you express what’s stressing you out, your life will benefit from it. Thoughts that don’t get expressed only accumulate in our minds, until we can’t take more of them or we’ll pop. And when I say vent yourself – be mindful of how you do it. Expressing your stress through anger, for example, is a bad way to do it. You’ll probably just stress out whomever was so kind to hear you out. In my opinion, being candid and direct about it is best. But, humor is an extremely potent tool as well. Make fun of the situation – make yourself and others laugh.
- Make Changes: And they don’t have to be big ones. One of the biggest parts of daily stress is repetitive routine, environment and situations. We feel like we can’t escape from things that stress us out because we feel like things can’t or won’t change. So, mix it up! Change your furniture, your decorations. Change your daily habits. Change the alarm next to your bed – that same sound becomes a signal that it’s time to go to work and take on the stressful day. Go on a road trip this weekend! Adventure, explore and learn. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – just go mess up and make things interesting again! Get a pet, or spend more time with your pets. Animals are one of the best companions for stress relief. Don’t eat the same thing every day – not only is this bad for your body, it’s tiresome to your lifestyle.
- Do the Things You Love: Some of us spend so much time doing things we have to (or only feel like we have to) that we can forget what it is that makes us tick. Pen and paper to the rescue! Make a list. What is it you love to do? Are you spending all your time working so you can do these things, only to have no time to do them? Write down what you want to do that you enjoy most. I doubt working overtime and watching television are on the list. You’ll probably be surprised to find that you indeed have time to do a number of things on your list. Or maybe, by cutting out the unnecessary bits you can make time to do them.
- Go Outside: Fresh air and sunshine are two of the best stress relievers there are! (For more info on the benefits of the outdoors, read this!)
If you follow some of my recommendations above, I’m certain you’ll find your stress levels decreased. We can’t change some things. That’s fine. We can change the way we react to them, though. In the end, that will make all the difference in your mental and physical health.
For those suffering from chronic stress, make sure to check out my next installment on stress, where we’ll be discussing diet changes and medicines that can reduce your body’s stress response, reduce damage to your health because of stress, and even reduce the feeling of stress!