Your mind has the uncanny ability to react with lightning speed to perceived threats and your body’s response is right behind it. Your heart rate increases, your muscles tense up, your breath quickens and your blood pressure spikes–all unconscious and all physiological signs of stress.
These defense mechanisms are useful during moments of a legitimate threat but can erode at your physical and emotional wellness over the course of a lifetime. Stress has been linked to myriad physical problems including serious chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems and depression.
Stopping stress before it starts is difficult but it can be done. Though your body reacts automatically when faced with a stressful situation, by becoming aware of your stress triggers you can consciously calm down and restore inner balance.
Simply taking five deep breaths (filling your lungs to capacity and completely expelling all air) will allow you to pause, gather your wits and avoid allowing stress to influence your reaction.
Counteract anger, fear, sadness and worrying by setting aside a few minutes to meditate. Meditation can be done at any time in any place and requires no special skills or tools. Make meditation part of your morning routine to keep you centered overall, or turn to meditation to calm down in a particularly stressful moment.
Remove yourself from anxiety-causing situations and distance yourself from others who bring out the stress in you. Take a leisurely walk around the block, close the door to your office or take a long, hot shower. What matters is giving yourself the time to relax and bring your awareness back to the present moment.
Never underestimate the power of child’s pose or other stress-busting yoga poses. Depending on where you are, don’t hesitate to drop to the floor (put a blanket or towel down to protect your knees and work clothes) and fold forward, stretching your arms out in front of you as you sink into balasana. Remember to breathe deeply and let your chest fall toward the ground. 10 to 15 deep breaths here should help you calm down.
Exercise releases endorphins, the natural antidote to stress. So when you’re feeling riled up, make a point to hit the gym.
Take an afternoon hike in your area or reserve a full week at a fitness retreat dedicated to helping you use nature to get in tune with yourself. Health retreats give you the opportunity to try inspiring new outdoor activities that help you gain a whole new perspective on your problems.
Poor eating habits can exacerbate your body’s reaction to stress. Replace salt, sugar and caffeine with fresh, organic greens and whole grains. Refuse to allow yourself to reach for unhealthy comfort food during turbulent times.
Learn the art of mindfulness
Wellness retreats can show you how to set your priorities straight by removing you from your daily grind and giving you time to re-set. Creative mindfulness activities and a structured schedule will teach you how to focus on the present and practice gratitude, even during challenging situations.
On the other hand, sometimes expressing your stress is exactly what you need to get it out of your system ASAP. Not since childhood have most of us allowed ourselves the relief of a good old-fashioned angry tantrum. Scream, cry, punch a pillow, slam a door. As long as you’re not hurting, threatening or scaring anyone else, give yourself permission for the occasional private outburst.
Talk about it
Talking about your problems makes them seem less overwhelming. So call a friend, tell them what’s happening and release the weight of your anxiety. Your friends are happy to be available in your time of need and they can bring a whole new perspective to your perplexing problem.
Managing stress is nothing to get stressed out about. Though it might be a fact of life, simply “living with it” could ultimately become dangerous. Learn how to handle stress by eliminating it in the moment and reducing it over time and you can pave the way for emotional wellness that helps support your long-term health.