“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ― Amit Ray
I see often see stress as our not-so-friendly neighbor that enters our lives without knocking. Also, stress can be beneficial (eustress); or we could experience bad stress (distress), both could impact our life for the better or worse. I’m here to talk about distress and ways that we can cope when we unexpectedly experience it in our life.
This subject is hugely important. And now, as am getting older, I physically started to feel the effects of stress more and more. The tension I feel in my body when stressed manifests into my jaw, which led to me having TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder).
Because of TMJ, I have to wear a splint that separates my upper and lower teeth at night… and this is something I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. I’d often wake up with headaches that spiral out from the tension staying in my jaw; I’ve also noticed a slight change in my eating habits which affects how my digestion works.
And this is all thanks to me not being able to find effective ways to reduce stress and release the tension. Stress can take a toll on our physical and mental health if left untreated, which is why it is so important to have a good plan-of-attack to fight stress when it arrives.
Struggling With Stress? Learn How to Deal With it Better
What is stress and how does it physiologically work in our bodies? To put it simply, a “stressor” will cause an intricate pathway of events that result in the release of cortisol, the key player in our body’s stress response.
When levels of cortisol are increased in our body due to stress, its job is to get us back to normal. This involves regulating our blood sugar and maintaining the typical environment that keeps our bodies happy, but it comes at a price of lowering our immune system, which is our built-in defense system we have against infections.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed, you could easily develop a cold or some other sickness? It’s because your immune system can’t protect you as well during stressful outbursts and, therefore, makes us more susceptible to illnesses.
While stress can be unavoidable, and often we experience bodily stress without knowing it, there are ways that we can reduce the effects of stress and even prevent it from being chronic:
Identify your triggers. What causes you stress? My personal triggers are when I feel overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, insecure, or uneasy with situations in life. When I start noticing these feelings and negative thoughts occurring, I know I’m experiencing a stress response and will change gears and work on stress-reducing activities.If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good. Click To Tweet
Find physical activities to reduce stress. You know that high you feel after working out or doing something physically demanding? That’s because of endorphins we release when being active that act as natural painkillers. I always feel less stressed after going for a run, taking a walk, going to yoga or fitness class, or just hitting up the gym. If you don’t want to strain yourself, even a walk outside can do you good.
Find visual ways to reduce stress. What are things you love seeing that make you feel less stressed? For some people, this may be a funny TV show or a website that has cute pictures of baby animals. For me, my visual way to reduce stress is going outside and admiring nature’ beauty: the trees, plants, grass, flowers, animals, birds, etc. What is something you can look at that will bring you calm?
Journal. Similar to how I hold tension in my jaw when stressed, we can unknowingly keep emotional stress in our minds and just let it sit there and amplify our physical symptoms. One way we can combat this is to write down whatever is causing our stress and getting it out of our mind and onto a piece of paper or computer document.
Meditate. I found through a dedicated meditation practice that is sometimes allowing myself to feel uncomfortable and sit with the stress gives me power to not let it take control of me. Now when I start feeling the tension building in my body, I go into a quiet room or put headphones on and throw on a guided meditation, or meditate in silence. Sometimes when we notice the stressful thoughts as if we are an outside observer, it takes away the power the thoughts hold over us.
Gratitude. Stress can throw us into a mental state where we are thinking of everything in a negative way. One way to combat the negative thinking that causes stress or stress can cause is to make a list of what we are grateful for. Even one single thought of something you’re grateful for can create a change in your mood and help lower your feeling of stress. I try and think of at least three things I’m grateful for every day, and especially when I start to feel cynical and ungrateful for situations in life. It is such a powerful tool.
“Rule number one is, don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule number two is, it’s all small stuff.”
– Robert Eliot
While experiencing stress is a normal part of being human and experiencing the ups and downs of life, we don’t have to let it take control over our life and be a long-term unwanted visitor. Your mind and body are both precious entities of your being that should be treated with love and care, even when stress makes us feel uncomfortable. Over time, the coping mechanisms we have against stress will be so incorporated into our routine that we will find ourselves becoming more resilient when facing tough situations that life throws at us.