Did you know that stress is one of the biggest agers of your body? Most of us have it. The issue is how we respond to it. If you let nagging, unfinished tasks hang over you, or you constantly feel your life is spinning out of control, it can wreak havoc on your body. That’s why it’s important to learn how to manage the stressful elements in your life — the tough boss, the rebellious teenager — and how to tone down your body’s physical response (e.g., rapid heartbeat, anxious racing thoughts) to them. Here’s a plan to avoid letting your worries burden — or bury — you.
You can’t tackle stress unless you know where it’s really coming from. Daily annoyances are easy targets, but are they really what’s bothering you? Lashing out at your kids bickering or the car that won’t let you merge, for example, may be a reaction not to those things but to something else, such as an extra assignment piled on at work. The first step to managing stress is pinpointing the true culprit.
With so much going on around you, it’s easy to get distracted. The trouble is you tend to miss critical details when you’re distracted, which can make you stressed and uneasy. Being mindful — really tuning in to the present, not the past or the future — can help you focus on handling the tasks at hand. Spend some time every day noticing the things most people tend to ignore, such as breathing, bodily sensations, and emotions. Try breathing exercises, or chi-gong (qigong) or yoga to help focus your mind and body. This won’t happen overnight, but with practice, you’ll notice a difference.
Writing down a to-do list takes just a minute and saves you more time than that. Creating a clear (and realistic) game plan for what you want to accomplish helps you tackle your day, so you don’t get bogged down in the unimportant details that eat up your time. The payoff: less stress and more time to enjoy the coffee you just poured.
Every emotion has an “urge to act” that goes with it. When we feel afraid or anxious, we avoid things. When we’re angry, we’re tempted to lash out or yell. Unfortunately, neither of these behaviors actually solves the problem, so take a different approach and you may just feel better. Worried about something? Tackle it instead of ignoring it. Angry at someone? Don’t lash out, be empathetic.
As everyday stress builds up, your muscles tend to tighten up, which can add to your distraction and stress. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves flexing and relaxing your muscles to help relieve some of the physical stress that builds up in them. Starting at the bottom of your body, tense the muscles of your feet and then relax them. Work through the different muscle groups of your body one at a time — your legs, stomach, back, neck, arms, face, and head. And breathe.
After focusing on flexing and releasing, you may realize that some muscles could use strengthening. Whether you use dumbbells, machines, resistance bands, or your own body weight, strength-building can help you stay one step ahead of stress. Lean body mass (that’s muscle, not fat) makes your blood pressure normal more quickly after a stressful event, and that takes a load off of your heart and arteries, especially when you think you have more work than time or more problems than solutions.
Getting your heart pumping and body sweating is the best way to avoid sweaty palms and a racing heart when you’re under pressure. Yep, exercise is one of life’s greatest stress relievers. Not only can it help you stay calm when you feel anxiety coming on, it can also boost your energy and improve your mood.
Meditation not only helps reduce stress by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, it can also help you focus, learn, and remember. Try it by sitting in a quiet, comfortable place, closing your eyes and relaxing your muscles. Breathe through your nose and, as you exhale, silently say a single-syllable word, such as om. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes. When you’re done, sit quietly and keep your eyes closed for a few minutes. Open your eyes and sit quietly for another few minutes before getting up. Print this simple meditation how-to.
When you cry, it signals that you’ve reached a level of stress that could be detrimental to your health and that it’s time to let it out. Tears help wash away emotional stress brought on by intense feelings of joy, grief, or panic. One major hormone that increases with stress is also associated with crying: prolactin. The higher the levels of prolactin in your body, the more often you’re bound to experience emotional crying.
Not the crying type? Try laughing when you’re stressed out. No joke; laughter is great medicine. A good belly laugh can ease stress and reduce levels of the high-anxiety hormone, cortisol. It also helps you cope better with whatever life throws your way by easing fears. So go ahead and laugh, even if it feels forced. Regularly laughing off tense moments in your days can make you more positive and optimistic. The more you laugh, the better you’ll feel.
Do you relish worrying? Fine. Worry away. But there’s a catch: Devote only two periods a day to it. Give your worries your full attention for 15 to 20 minutes. Wallow in all their soul-sucking glory. Then stop. When they rise up again, tell yourself that you’ll address them during your next worry period. Now you’re in control over when worries can worry you.
Sometimes problems swell into things that get out of control or look worse than they really are. And sometimes you just don’t give yourself enough credit. You may actually be dealing with your daily stresses just fine, but in your head, things feel frantic. Take a step back. Try to see yourself through someone else’s eyes (anyone’s eyes — your lover’s, your gardener’s, Big Bird’s). You might see that you’re actually doing better than you think.