by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Stress is a natural part of life. You can’t eliminate it. However, you can learn healthy ways to manage it …
Stress usually has negative connotations. It is associated with excessive responsibilities, sick kids, overbooked schedules, and traffic jams. Used effectively though, stress can increase mental and physical functioning. Its release of fight-or-flight brain chemicals can energize us into action.
It is impossible to banish all stressors from your life. Avoid the frustration of this futile attempt, and the additional stress it will cause. Instead, focus on better ways to deal with it. Start with these:
Lack of quality sleep contributes to stress by exacerbating negative occurrences. Little hassles become disproportionately hard to manage. You are also inclined to make poor decisions and more mistakes when tired, which leads to more stress.
Skip the Comfort Food
Power up your brain and immune system with food for thought. No stress-attack needs to be fueled by sugar and caffeine. That only leads to a crash. Go for foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like tuna. Snack on nuts and seeds. Essential nutrients improve concentration and help maintain energy. Monitor the amount you eat. Too much food can cause heaviness and fatigue; too little, hunger and lightheadedness. Combat stress with a sharp mind.
Breathe to Relieve
Take time to catch your breath, literally. Watch your abdomen expand and contract with breaths. Keep shoulders from creeping toward ears. Good posture allows a more cleansing breath and deeper relaxation. To relieve stress:
- Sit or stand comfortably (no special poses required).
- Inhale deeply through your nose. Take your time with this, about five seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth in an eight-count.
- Repeat about five times. (A note to the cynic: One big, huffy breath does not do the job.)
Laugh It Off
Laughter is shown to be so beneficial to our health that laugh clinics and classes are appearing. Consider laughing as a mini workout for muscles as you contract away a few cares of the day. Laughter promotes the production of feel-good hormones in the brain and relaxes muscles. It is one of stress’ enemies.
Choosing laughter during a stressful time allows us to feel in control. It lets us remove ourselves from a tense, tiring situation and relieve tension. During a crisis where humor is hard to find, check out a joke, read a funny book, or just think of something humorous. You may laugh more heartily during stress as your emotions find relief in this outpouring.
Manage stress levels throughout the day with exercise. Stress can fuel a workout while a workout simultaneously soothes stress. Consider this healthy Rx:
- Begin your day with a trip to the Center for morning yoga or an aquatic workout. These are refreshing ways to ease into a new day.
- Midday, relieve tension with a quick power walk or some gentle stretches. If time allows, try a lunchtime Group Fitness class at the Center. These are better options than venting on your boss or downing antacids.
- At day’s end, hit the Center for weightlifting, kickboxing, or other high-intensity workouts. These tame the irritated mind so you’re better able to enjoy the evening. You may arrive home later, but you’ll probably be more pleasant company. A release of the day’s frustrations with an invigorating workout makes one less likely to snap over a burnt dinner or kid’s missing homework assignment.
- Before bed, unwind with quiet meditation and gratitude.
Stress occurs in many forms every day. Learn healthy coping mechanisms to keep it from becoming chronic, which can lead to heart disease, obesity, and other illnesses. With proper management, you will have just enough stress to stay sharp while remaining healthy.