5 ways to deal with stress
Stop and think about your body right now. Notice your jaw; is it relaxed or tightly clenched? Think about your shoulders; are they nice and loose or are they up around your ears?
Are you breathing deeply or taking shallow, quick breaths? Are your hands balled into fists? Is your stomach knotted up? Does your back feel tight and achy? Are you quickly tapping your foot or shaking your leg?
A periodic body scan can’t tell you everything about how you’re handling stress, but it’s a good way to gauge your reaction to whatever life happens to be throwing at you throughout the course of your day. It’s also a good reminder to take a moment to pause, relax, breathe deeply and spend a few minutes unwinding.
Being more attentive to the way your body and mind react to stress is the point of National Stress Awareness Month. Sponsored by the Health Resource Network, it was started in 1992 and is designed to increase public awareness of the causes of stress and the ways we can combat it.1
What is stress?
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), stress can be defined as the body’s response to a threat, be it real or perceived.2 The response is designed as a protective measure to get your body ready to deal with danger, but problem is most of the threats we face during the course of an ordinary day aren’t actually life and death, nor are they something we can simply run away from.
Some stress is actually beneficial – it helps motivate us to solve problems and resolve difficult situations. It’s when stress is chronic and overwhelming that it becomes a problem. It’s like being stuck experiencing the “flight or fight” response all the time, even when there isn’t a good reason to be nervous or afraid.
Chronic stress can wreck havoc on your body by:3
- Causing headaches and upset stomach
- Increasing blood pressure
- Contributing to problems like diabetes, asthma, arthritis, anxiety, depression and heart problems
- Causing chest pain
If you believe you or someone you love is impacted by chronic stress, here are 5 ways to help you deal with it more effectively.
- Get enough sleep. It’s important to rest your weary mind so that you and your body are better able to cope with the stresses your encounter. We have some great tips for getting a good night’s sleep in these articles: Sleep better naturally, Sleep like a baby when you’re all grown up and You need your sleep.
- Practice self-care. Looking after yourself is not selfish, even if you have a lot of people relying on you to look after them. You can’t help others if you have nothing left in the tank, so take time to restore yourself, body and soul. For tips on making self-care part of your daily routing, read our article on how to take care of you.
- Breathe. Yes, you do it instinctively all day long, but when you’re feeling stressed your breathing often tends to be shallow and rapid. Check out Calm Clinic for relaxing breathing techniques that will help calm your mind and ease the tension in your body.
- Figure out the root cause. It’s hard to fight a battle you know nothing about, so take note of when you’re feeling particularly stressed and write down how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, and what’s going on around you at that particular moment. Identifying the cause of your stress is the first step in combatting it. If it’s a job issue, perhaps you can talk to your boss or HR. If it’s a time management problem, maybe delegating some chores to your spouse or children would help. If it’s a relationship challenge, talking to a religious leader or therapist might make things better. If the cause of your stress is something you feel you have no control over, talking to a therapist to help you manage the stress can be helpful.
- Ask for help. There is no shame in seeking out help from a professional who is trained to guide people who are dealing with chronic stress and anxiety. A therapist can give you the tools you need to cope with what’s going on around you, and help you to find healthy ways to manage your stress before it gets out of hand.
Stress is a part of life, but National Stress Awareness Month is a good time to assess the level of stress you experience and how it may be impacting your health. The good news is that even though it might take some time, practice and effort, there are always ways to calm down and feel better.
There is always hope.