The world feels more stressful than ever right now, and could feel as if it’s spinning out of control sometimes. Whether you’re working through a stressful situation, or focusing on bringing down your stress levels in general, we’ve got some tips to help you take control of stress.
Stress is the Fight or Flight Response
Did you know that when stress hits, it’s your body’s fight or flight response that’s kicking in? When something causes you to feel stress, your body releases the stress hormone called cortisol, which burns fat to create blood sugar that gives you enough fuel to fight or flee. Your heart races, your brain becomes hyper-focused, and you’re ready to take action.
Think about this: if your stress in your life is an ongoing situation, and you’re always living in survival mode, how is that affecting your body? You may experience a number of symptoms because of it that you’re not even aware of, such as stomach/digestive issues, headaches, tiredness, muscle aches, and overall irritability to name a few. You may even feel as if you have no control over your life.
The truth is, you do. Here are some things you can do to help take control of your stress levels.
Deep Breaths Calm the Body
Before reading any further, lie down, close your eyes, and put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, then breathe for a few minutes. Do you notice if it’s the hand on your chest or the hand on your belly that moves with each breath? If it’s your chest, you are likely going to be surprised that you need to re-learn how to breathe! The American Lung Association recommends breathing through your nose and belly so that your diaphragm can fully expand and allow your lungs to fill. Not allowing your lungs to expand makes you breathe faster, further fueling the stress response.
When you feel stress, the first thing to do is to close your eyes if you can, then take ten very deep breaths. Try counting to five as you inhale, hold for five counts, then exhale for five counts. These slow breaths send a signal to your brain to relax, and is a great method to try when you have trouble falling asleep, too!
Take a Break to Recalibrate
Recalibrating can help you pause and assess the stressful situation. No matter how tight your deadline is, this is a very important step to effective stress management. Whether you get up to go for a walk, take deep breaths, or do something you enjoy, this is a moment that’s in your control that can help you come back to the stressful situation with a clearer, more relaxed head.
Write in a Journal
Journaling is a great way to reduce stress and has even been referred to as a form of meditation. Whether you use a prompt or you write about a situation, sometimes, just following your stream of consciousness through the written word can help dig into your subconscious for solutions you’ve never thought of. Physically writing down your thoughts activates the left and right brain, potentially making this exercise even more effective. That said, if pen and paper aren’t an option, typing is better than not journaling at all!
Take Care of Your Physical Health
When you take care of your physical health, you’re setting up your body for stronger mental health. Walking is a great stress reliever, but so is boxing, yoga, lifting weights, or spending time on a rowing machine. No matter what type of exercise you choose, you’re doing your body and mind some good. In fact, exercise releases endorphins, the neurotransmitter that helps you feel happy. Try focusing on your body’s movements, which can help ease your mind of the cause of your stress. This is “meditation in motion” and is great for body, mind, and spirit!
When stress is a mainstay in your life, creativity can be zapped, and you no longer find joy in art or hobbies you once enjoyed. Another way for you to take control of your stress is to make an effort to seek out hobbies and creativity. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, or how “good” you think your skill might be. Toss that aside and focus on the act of creation! Scientists have drawn direct ties to expressing creatively and the reduction of cortisol in the body.
Taking these steps can help you reduce stress and become more adept at keeping it at bay!