Stress. It’s a part of everyone’s life. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, at work or retired, we all experience it.
While we have a negative notion about stress, it’s not all bad. Stress pushes us to perform, whether it be physical or mental. Exercise is a form of physical stress, working our body to make it stronger. And without the stress of deadlines, it can be hard to get things done.
While a little bit of stress can boost our performance, too much can impair it. For some stress, such as work or school deadlines, the stress can be temporary and usually disappears once the deadline is met. But continual or chronic stress can increase our risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even early death.
Fight or flight
Our body responds to stress by getting revved up. It gives us a boost of adrenaline, getting our heart pumping faster and breathing quicker. In days of old, this was helpful when the best response to stress was either fight or flight.
Nowadays, we can’t really run away from stress at work, and we can’t fight our way through daily stress. So, we’re left to wait it out without a release. It’s the lack of release that creates stress that can impact our health. But there are many things we can do to reduce stress and prevent the negative impact on our health.
How to manage your stress
- Get a good night’s sleep
Ever wake up after a restless sleep? It seems like nothing can go right that day. But a good night’s sleep can make you feel invincible. When we’re tired, our adrenaline is usually up, which makes us more susceptible to stress. Getting enough sleep is important to our performance and will make things that seemed stressful the day before, much more manageable.
Physical activity delivers a whole host of benefits for your mental wellbeing. When it comes to stress, exercise will help you make use of that adrenaline circulating through your body. In addition, the release of serotonin and endorphins that occurs with exercise can make you feel even better. Doing an activity that gets your heart rate up is great, but even something at a lower intensity, such as a leisurely walk, can help too.
The popularity of meditation has increased over the years as people look to it to not only reduce stress but improve focus and even performance. Meditation trains you to clear your mind of thoughts from the past, and worries of the future, to focus on the present. This may include focusing on your breathing. Meditation can bring clarity to your thinking and possibly reduce stress.
- Take control
Stress often comes from a sense of a lack of control over something in our life, giving us a feeling of helplessness. Trying to find a way to exert some control over the situation can be helpful, but is not always possible. You may not have control over work deadlines, or the fact that your teenager is taking your car out for the first time. In those cases, you may look to other aspects in your life to focus control over. Doing so can give you confidence that you are able to manage life’s challenges and keep a positive outlook.
- Smile and laugh
It always feels good to laugh because it releases endorphins just like exercise does. Other physiological changes such as improved functioning of the arteries can also help to counter the effects of stress. Laughter has also been shown to reduce anxiety. Smiling can help too. Even a forced smile can result in more positive feelings when completing a stressful task compared to not smiling.
When things go wrong, we like to know that this is normal. We can only figure that out if we spend time with others, talking to them about their lives as we share ours. Spending time with people can make you happier and even hearing a familiar voice can lead to releases of oxytocin (the love hormone). Being with others in person is better than through video or telephone as you’re also able to receive and provide physical contact which has benefits like ensuring trust and feelings of belonging.
- Start a journal
Some people call this a worry book, in which you write down the things that concern you. Most people do this before bed so they can dump worries from their mind onto the page. Writing things down makes them seem less significant. And it’s much better than bottling them up inside. An additional idea is to write down a few things that you enjoyed or are thankful for from that day. This can get you focusing on the positive aspects of your life. No matter how bad a day is, there is always some good that can be found in it.
All these hacks have one thing in common: They work to remove you from the source of stress and thoughts of that stress. Bringing some, or all, into your daily life can help prevent the buildup of stress and make life’s challenges seem less challenging.
Dr. Scott Lear is a leading researcher in the prevention and management of heart disease. He holds the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, and he is a professor in the faculty of health sciences and the department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Lear also lives with heart disease himself. Follow his blog at drscottlear.com.