Whether you just pushed to make it through the April 15th tax deadline, or just delayed the pain with an extension, the next big deadline is just around the corner. Stress never takes a break, and financial issues are by no means the only source of stress; there are plenty of family, work, and health related stressors that we encounter in our lives.
Some amount of stress is inevitable, and hormones associated with stress help regulate our circadian rhythms, and can give us an edge in competitive activities and performances such as public speaking. Stress hormones help us respond to sudden stressors, real life or death struggles. Our bodies make adrenaline to fight or run for our lives. All the energy behind the stress was used up in the actions we took to save our lives. But we weren’t designed to live in a chronically stressful environment, constantly making hormones as if we were under physical attack.
Now the stressors we face are not so clear cut as an immediate fight for our lives, and they keep coming at us throughout the day. Demands of living in the fast paced world take a toll, with expectations from our boss, our partner, children, parents, other drivers, and the list goes on. To make matters worse, we often replay these events in our mind, and literally re-live the stress, causing the release of all the stress hormones again as if the event was still happening. This can affect our physical health just as surely as it affects our emotional and spiritual health, and is linked to higher levels of inflammation, which is linked to serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, as well as anxiety and depression. It’s unlikely that you can quit your job and move to a five star spa, so what can you do?
1. Exercise. The stress hormones were meant to get us out of a tight spot, either by running or fighting. Exercise is the natural way to burn off those stress hormones, but doesn’t necessarily have to be strenuous. Yoga, or even simple walking can be a great place to start. Taking a 20 minute walk, swinging your arms in a cross crawl motion, helps your mind and body process all the events of the day so that you don’t have to keep replaying them. Strenuous exercise can be good, too, to utilize all the stress hormones, such as adrenaline, as if you were really taking action in a fight or flight response. Try to exercise away from bedtime, however. Exercising too close to bedtime can get you too energized for good sleep.
2. Sleep. Getting enough sleep is imperative to good health, especially for your brain. Sleep allows for your brain to ‘detox,’ or get rid of all the waste products from daily metabolism, which can be an irritant to your brain if they hang around for a longer period of time. Sleep also helps with memory, which is often already compromised by stress alone. Good sleep is maybe the number one thing that you can do to deal with stress, but it can be tough to achieve if you’re stressed out. It can become a vicious cycle. Exercise can lead to better sleep quality for longer periods of time. Going to bed at a regular time each night, by 10 pm, can also help prevent disruption in cortisol, a stress hormone that also affects your circadian rhythm and can lead to weight gain, diabetes and inflammation.
3. Breathe. When stress hits, your heart rate speeds up, and you tend to hold your breath or breathe shallowly. Deep breathing slows the heart rate and tells your body and your brain that you’re safe. Deep breathing also supplies your body and brain with the oxygen it needs to function, and helps eliminate toxins and waste products like carbon dioxide.
4. Feed yourself well. It may seem pretty basic, but making sure you take the time to eat nourishing food is even more important when you’re stressed. You may be burning through certain key nutrients, like magnesium and B vitamins, more when you’re stressed than at other times. You need to replenish these things in order to function at your best. You can’t fight off a tiger on nutritional fumes. Avoid getting ‘hangry’ and getting sucked into a downward stress spiral by making sure you have the nutrition you need to be at your best. Some people have genetic variations that make it more difficult to utilize some nutrients effectively, and need additional support in this area.
5. Stop negative thinking in its tracks. Going over past mistakes or misfortunes is almost the same as actually reliving those events and causes your body to produce stress hormones all over again. Some reflection can be productive if it helps you learn from the situation so you can handle a similar situation better the next time, but only if you add a good dose of forgiveness along with the instant replay and don’t get stuck in a repeating loop of negativity. Set a time limit for allowing yourself to go over past events. Allow yourself to feel however you feel, but do not beat yourself up or allow any sort of verbal abuse. When the time’s up, move on to something more constructive. If you find negative thoughts creeping in at random times, stop them immediately and reframe the story you tell yourself.
6. Socialize. This is one of the best ways to interrupt negative thinking. Find some people to laugh with, commiserate with, and connect with. Family, friends, support groups all can be great resources. Maybe it’s a hobby group and you’re meeting with people to talk about a pastime you’re passionate about, or getting together to help other people who may be less fortunate, or just a friend or two who make you feel good about yourself that you enjoy spending time with, socializing is really important. Whatever the venue, these should be people who accept, like and/or love you the way you are, whom you have a positive interaction with. Bonus if they are close friends that offer you a new perspective, or are just plain silly.
7. Prioritize. How important is this? Is it more important than your health? Time with your family? What absolutely needs to get done? What can wait or fall by the wayside? Learn to say ‘no’ sometimes, and allow yourself the space to rest, meditate, or just do nothing. While you don’t need to turn into a flake, be realistic about what you can commit to at the outset without ending up overwhelmed and stressed out. Sometimes our priorities change, and it’s okay to embark on a different path, so long as you’re honest with yourself and others.
Finally, get help if you need it. There’s no shame in asking for help. Humans are communal creatures, and we’re meant to live in an interdependent web of support. We live in a busy, crazy world with many demands. Some stress is completely normal, but cumulative stress can lead to disease. While there are a lot of things we can’t control, we can still nurture ourselves to live at our best. Treat yourself gently, taking one step at a time to get to bigger results. Chiropractic care and massage therapy can help reset your nervous system, and relieve the effects of stress. If these steps are not enough, or you’re having difficulty sleeping or optimizing your diet, or have already started experiencing the effects of long term stress, inflammation and chronic disease, call to set up a naturopathic, chiropractic, acupuncture or massage appointment at (503) 305-7762.