Stress occurs when you perceive that demands placed on you — such as work, school or relationships — exceed your ability to cope. Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines.
However, to much stress can have health consequences, affecting your immune, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine and central nervous systems, and take a severe emotional toll.
Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.
By finding positive, healthy ways to manage stress as it occurs, many of these negative health consequences can be reduced. Everyone is different, and so are the ways they choose to manage their stress. Some people prefer pursuing hobbies such as gardening, playing music and creating art, while others find relief in more solitary activities: meditation, yoga and walking.
Here are five healthy techniques that psychological research has shown to help reduce stress in the short- and long-term.
Begin with a preventative health check up. A simple, non-invasive ultrasound screening of the carotid arteries, abdominal aorta, thyroid gland, liver, kidneys, spleen and gallbladder, can help relieve stress and worry over health matters.
You can help prevent a stroke by early detection of possible arterial plaque or blockages, stop cancer dead in its tracks by early detection of tumors or nodules in the kidneys, liver, gallbladder, spleen and thyroid gland. Plus you get an early warning of kidney or gallbladder stones.
Once you determine your basic health you need to develop regularly scheduled Exercise.
The research keeps growing — exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. Even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session in the midst of a stressful time can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours.
Smile and laugh. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions. When people are stressed, they often hold a lot of the stress in their face. So laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension and improve the situation.
Get social support. Call a friend, send an email. When you share your concerns or feelings with another person, it does help relieve stress. But it’s important that the person whom you talk to is someone whom you trust and whom you feel can understand and validate you. If your family is a stressor, for example, it may not alleviate your stress if you share your works woes with one of them.
Meditate. Meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress. Much like exercise, research has shown that even meditating briefly can reap immediate benefits.
Stress is subjective to each individual; what can be considered a stressful event by one person may be less stressful to another. Therefore, stress is not caused by the event itself, but how an individual interprets the situation and deals with it. When people cannot cope with the demands placed on them and negativity sets in, this is considered a stress response.
Use Positive Self-Talk
- Self-talk is one way to deal with stress. We all talk to ourselves; sometimes we talk out loud but usually we keep self-talk in our heads. Self-talk can be positive (“I can do this” or “Things will work out”) or negative (“I’ll never get well” or “I’m so stupid”). Negative self-talk increases stress. Positive self-talk helps you calm down and control stress. With practice, you can learn to turn negative thoughts into positive ones.
For example: To help you feel better, practice positive self-talk every day — in the car, at your desk, before you go to bed or whenever you notice negative thoughts. Having trouble getting started? Try positive statements such as these:
“I can get help if I need it.”
“We can work it out.”
“I won’t let this problem get me down.”
“Things could be worse.”
“I’m human, and we all make mistakes.”
“I can deal with this situation.”
Positive self-talk helps you relieve stress and deal with the situations that cause you stress.
Emergency Stress Stoppers
There are many stressful situations — at work, at home, on the road and in public places. We may feel stress because of poor communication, too much work and everyday hassles like standing in line. Emergency stress stoppers help you deal with stress on the spot.
Try these emergency stress stoppers. You may need different stress stoppers for different situations and sometimes it helps to combine them.
Count to 10 before you speak.
Take three to five deep breaths.
Walk away from the stressful situation, and say you’ll handle it later.
Don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry” if you make a mistake.
Set your watch five to 10 minutes ahead to avoid the stress of being late.
Break down big problems into smaller parts. For example, answer one letter or phone call per day, instead of dealing with everything at once.
Drive in the slow lane or avoid busy roads to help you stay calm while driving.
Consider meditation or prayer to break the negative cycle.
When stress makes you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good. Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to fight off stress.
You don’t have to do a lot to find pleasure. Even if you’re ill or down, you can find pleasure in simple things such as going for a drive, chatting with a friend or reading a good book.
Do at least one thing every day that you enjoy, even if only for 15 minutes. For example:
Start an art project (oil paint, sketch, create a scrap book)
Take up a hobby, new or old.
Read a favorite book, short story, magazine or newspaper.
Have coffee or a meal with friends.
Play golf, tennis, ping-pong or bowl.
Listen to music during or after you practice relaxation.
Take a nature walk — listen to the birds, identify trees and flowers.
Make a list of everything you still want to do in life.
Take a class at your local college.
Play cards or board games with family and friends.
Relaxation is more than sitting in your favorite chair watching TV. To relieve stress, relaxation should calm the tension in your mind and body. Some good forms of relaxation are yoga, tai chi (a series of slow, graceful movements) and meditation.
Like most skills, relaxation takes practice. Many people join a class to learn and practice relaxation skills.
Deep breathing is a form of relaxation you can learn and practice at home using the following steps. It’s a good skill to practice as you start or end your day. With daily practice, you will use this skill whenever you feel stress. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap or lie down. Close your eyes. Picture yourself in a peaceful place. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply. Continue to breathe slowly for 10 minutes or more. Try to take at least five to 10 minutes every day for deep breathing or another form of relaxation.