How would you define stress? Well, it would depend on many different situations of course. It can be defined as the day-to-day problems that come up: your angry boss, the crazy driver who almost ran into your car, the pressing deadline at work, or that line at the super market that never seems to move. So, why does it seem like some people get stressed out over certain situations, eventually making themselves ill, and some take it with a grain of salt? It clearly is not the stress that causes us to make ourselves sick, but rather our response to it.
As we begin to stress out, there are somewhere between 20 and 30 different stress hormones that are released into your bloodstream and they can have a massive affect on your body (1). You experience symptoms like rapid breathing and heart rate, sweaty palms, and muscle tension. This is a result of the sympathetic nervous system jumping into overdrive and as it begins to produce these symptoms, the parasympathetic nervous system is shut down as a result. This part of the nervous system is responsible for immunity, repair, digestion, sleep regulation and sexual function (1). Now, you can see why stress is so damaging to the human body!
What hurts us in the end is continual stress because this leads to chronic inflammation of the immune system which can lead to digestive issues, weight gain or loss, depression, migraines, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. What is important to remember is that you cannot control external events, but you can control how you react to them. What most people tend to forget is this is the secret to managing stress: control. Here are five points of control in order to mange the stress in your life:
· Nutrition- “You are what you eat:” How we fuel our body is how we fuel our emotions. Make sure to always eat a well balanced diet filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein. It also helps to monitor your alcohol intake as well: 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women (2).
· Physical Activity- Not only does this improve your appearance, but it helps you control your emotions as well. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of physical activity, including cardio and resistance or strength training (2).
· Sleep- Sleep is significantly important for an emotional well-being since it improves brain activity and repairs the heart and blood vessels (3). Take time to relax after work instead of jumping on your unfinished work and emails right when you get home. Adolescents should get between 9-10 hours of sleep a night where as adults need about 7-8 hours (3).
Time: Use your time wisely to do the things that matter most and learn to say “no” to things that do not matter. Mentally plan your day in outline, starting with the outcomes you want to create and then the activities needed to achieve them. Then estimate how long each will take and schedule the activities into your day (1). It is important to leave plenty of gaps in your outline so when unexpected things come up, you are not stressing out over them.
Environment: Take control over your environment by tidying it or rearranging it while also paying attention to the small aspects that bother you. This can range from moving furniture, home improvements, tidying up your office desk, or cleaning up your computer desktop. Keep making changes you can control to your environment and focusing on the affects they make.
Mental: When we begin to feel stressed out, we tend to focus on our attention towards fixing the situation and how it may continue to go bad. What we need to do is turn our focus towards overcoming short-term set backs and being grateful for what we already have in our lives. This gratuity can be as simple as being grateful for your health, family and friends or even a small good thing like the nice meal you had for lunch today.
Attitude: A resilient attitude is key for handling those unexpected and overwhelming situations. Positive emotions activates the ventral striatum area of the brain and further research has proven that continued activation of this part of the brain has been linked to healthful changes in the body, including lowering the levels of stress hormones (4). Self-affirmation- thinking about what is most important to you in life- leads to a more resilient version of an individual and eventually leading to a control over the positive and negative emotions.
The take away from stress is that it is a natural part of life, no matter how hard you try and “get rid of it.” In the end, we must accept it and then turn our focus towards how we maintain our bodies, environment, attitude, mental wellbeing and our time. Once these five points are instilled within us as habits, “being stressed out” will be a saying of the past.
1.) Brilliant Stress Management: How to Manage Stress in Any Situation. Clayton, Mark Ph.D. Pearson UK. Oct. 2011