Stress & the Body – Reduction Techniques
This isn’t my first blog about stress. It’s actually my 5th or 6th blog where I talk about stress. Why? Because it plagues our daily lives. Everyone has stress. But…no one really seems to grasp the severity of stress on the body.
So…I’m going to write about it again.
Except this time, I’m not going to go into the lengthy science behind stress and how it affects us. Instead, I’m going to focus on symptoms of excess stress and what you can do to start taking the edge off for you.
So, let’s dive in, shall we?
Symptoms of Excess Stress
There’s a great book written by a neuro-endocrinologist (Robert Sapolsky) called “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers.” He talks about zebras being stressed for a very short period of time when out running another animal that wants the zebra as an afternoon snack. When the threat is over, zebras go on about their day.
For humans, we may only be stressed for a very short period of our day as well. But, we don’t go back to business as usual when the stress is over. We do everything but let it go. Here’s what we do:
Think about it
Get pissed about the stressful situation
Vent about it
Post on social media about it
Talk about it for days
What we don’t do is let it go.
Stress can manifest in a variety of ways. It’s usually the very last thing people think about when they are trying to track down information regarding their health. We don’t want to admit we can’t handle stress. Myself included! In my mind, I’m a frickin’ rock star at handling stress. In reality, I suck at it.
If the thought has ever crossed your mind that you’re overstressed, then you probably are. Even if it’s just for a very brief moment. And just because you can zip through a stressful situation and come out unscathed on the other side…it doesn’t mean the effects aren’t happening internally. This is the classic duck on the water scenario. You know…calm as a cucumber up top and spazzing out under the water?
Here are a few of the common symptoms of excess stress I see in my office:
Inability to lose weight
High blood pressure
Irritable bowels – either constipation or diarrhea
Feeling like you’re coming down with something
Frequent colds or flu
Loss of appetite or overeating
Unexplained hives on the body
There are so many more symptoms of excess stress. These just happen to be the ones I see most often.
Stress Reduction Techniques
There are a variety of techniques that work. I usually give 2 to 3 different techniques to my clients to try out. This way they can find one they like and focus on that one. It’s important to try different strategies because not everyone loves yoga and not everyone loves to meditate. Here are my go-to techniques.
There is much more to meditation than sitting crossed legged ohmming your little heart out. Meditation can be different for everyone. My all-time favorite type of meditation is guided meditation. My mind wanders like no body’s business. I think this is a reason many put off meditating. Guided meditation allows you to listen to someone’s voice and do just what they tell you.
There are a ton of free guided meditation videos on YouTube. Headspace is a popular mobile application as well. I will say this…don’t knock it until you’ve tried. Here’s a quick 5-minute meditation to try out. Click it and do what they tell you too!
Belly breathing is great because it helps to calm the mind. We have something called the gut-brain connection. Have you ever been so stressed or scared that you had to run to the bathroom? That’s your brain sending a signal to your gut by way of the vagus nerve. When we are stressed in the gut, the brain gets the signal the body is on overload. When we are stress in the mind, the signal is sent to the gut.
We can calm the mind by doing some belly breathing. The vagus nerve is intertwined with the intestines and the diaphragm. The focus of belly breathing is to take some deep breaths with the focus on expanding the belly to stimulate the diaphragm. Usually, we breathe into the chest. With a conscious effort, we can calm the mind and body by taking 3 to 5 deep breaths into the diaphragm. I recommend everyone try this technique because you can do it anywhere.
Here’s a quick video demonstrating how to belly breath.
This is a great de-stress technique…for some. Not everyone feels the stress rolling off their bodies while working out. So, if you know it’s not for you, don’t go balls to the wall on the treadmill. Instead, go for a walk. Don’t brood about your stress while walking, though. Focus on the scenery. Take some deep breaths. Focus on things that lift your spirit. If you find that you can’t alter your thoughts to a happier place, count your steps. Count your steps until you catch your mind wandering. Then start back at one. Do this with a goal of going higher when counting.
This one really combines the first 3 techniques into one. I have a love-hate relationship with yoga. When I can motivate myself to do it, I feel amazing afterward. But I struggle with getting out there and doing it. Mostly because I’m not a fan of exercise. And yoga is exercise.
With that said, if you’ve never taken a yoga class before, I encourage you to try it a few times. You might find the relaxation you’ve been missing. You’ll set your intention for the class (mine is always relaxation) and you’ll get moving. You’ll do some belly breathing. It’s meditative. You’ll clear your mind. And you’ll work up a sweat.
I think most are concerned about body shape/size or not being flexible enough. I’ve been in classes with men and women of all shapes, sizes, and levels. The best part about yoga…judgment is checked outside the studio. It’s accepting of all!
Listening to Music
This is a great one that many employ and don’t really know they’re working through stress reduction. When you’re listening to music, you’re focused on the music. You’re not thinking about the stress of the day or what you have to do the next day. You’re fully immersed in the tune. Like the first several techniques, reframing your thoughts and focus is enough to reduce the stress in the body.
This will seem weird for some of you. Heck, this was a weird one for me. When I was going through school, we had a course that required us to play. At the time, I thought the professor was nuts. I rolled my eyes at every assignment. I did not want to play duck duck goose on the floor with my teenage kids. I’m over 30!
But, as I progressed in my program, I understood the reasoning. Play gets us laughing. It gets us having fun and doing something silly. We bond with others. And, it washes away the stress. So, play! It doesn’t have to be duck duck goose. Have a family game night. Go to the amusement park. Hit up the trampoline park. Kick off a game of backyard soccer. Play charades. Just play J
Having a Happy Place
This one is a huge winner for me. The beach is my happy place. There is something about the sound of the waves and the smell of the salt water. It brings a calm over me that I just can’t explain. I’m actually on vacation at the moment. I’m sitting in a chair looking out my bungalow window staring at the ocean and listening to the waves. Yes, I’m working. But I am relaxed J
Find your happy place. Go there as much as you can. And ensure you are relaxed when you’re there. Clear your mind and don’t focus on the things that stress you out.
Make a List
This works well for individuals that continually think about the things they need to get done throughout the day. They are mentally running through their list. Then running through it again. Then checking it again. And another time to make sure they didn’t forget something. Then, when lying in bed at night, running through one last time only to find they forgot something. So, they mentally berate themselves for forgetting to get something done. They either get up to do it, or push it to the next day’s mental list.
Just write it down. When you get up in the morning, do a brain dump. Write everything you need to get done that day in your planner or in your notes on your phone or on a slip of paper. Write it somewhere. Check it as often as you want. What you’re doing is taking the stress out of remembering to get it all done. You now have a list to you can check.
Pick one to try and let me know how it goes. For best results, do some form of stress reduction technique daily…multiple times a day in some instances.
Leave a comment below letting me know which technique you tried and whether you liked it.