If I were to ask 100 people, ' What is stress?', every answer would be different! I find that both intriguing and mildly frustrating. Why is it, that something that has such a profound effect on our lives is so elusive? We know what stress is, but when we are asked to put our finger on it, its slippery.
That being said, I’d like to give you a VERY watered down version of what stress is, and the response that the body has to stress. Stress is, at its core, a mental, physical and/or emotional response to changes we experiences. These changes may be small, or quite large, but they all may illicit a response. So, physiologically all of our responses are similar. Stress affects the nervous systems and the endocrine system which includes (but is not limited to) your hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid and adrenals. The hypothalamus connects your endocrine systems with your nervous system, while the pituitary gland uses information it receives from the brain to tell the other glands what to do. The thyroid makes the hormone that controls your metabolism, and finally your adrenals create the fight or flight hormone ‘adrenaline’. Obviously there is a great deal more to it, but for our purposes at present, this will suffice.
While what physiologically takes place in the body may be similar from person to person, each persons bodily response will be different. It comes down to, among other things: a persons genetics, their health and nutrition, and their environment. Now, stress is a natural bodily response that has kept humans alive for tens of thousands of years, if not longer. What has changed however, is that a persons stress response is meant to be occasional or episodal, not constant and unremitting. Historically, when the body experiences stress it was immediate, in preparation for ‘fight or flight’. In this case, the blood in the body rushes from the organs to the muscles for optimal performance, agility and speed, the heart rate and blood pressure increases, digestion slows, and blood sugar increases as energy is pulled from all corners of the body to respond to the immediate and imminent stress or danger.
Once the danger has passed, the body can relax, the heart rate decreases, blood pressure decreases, the adrenals relax and our body has time to rest and replenish. Or, at least that is what SHOULD happen. Life today however, seems to be constantly on 'The Go'. Many of us don’t have the opportunity for our body to relax and replenish. We go from one stressor to another, whether it be a demanding boss or co-worker, dealing with an impossible deadline, rushing from one place to another trying to get children to and from school or practice, or even staying up late at night worrying about health challenges or finances. A stressor can be anything…
1. Get More Sleep. If your body is rested and you’ve gotten at least 7 hours of sleep, your body will be better prepared to deal with stressors as they present themselves throughout the day.
2. Take breaks throughout the day- While this may be counterintuitive, taking breaks from working or studying actually makes a person more productive and boosts their performance, and health. I’ve heard these breaks called ’strategic renewals’ which I think is brilliant! Taking a short, five to ten minute break every hour or two is advisable, while taking a longer break of at least 30 minutes every two to four hours is also suggested. During these break you could take a quick nap, work out, take a short walk, or grab an apple.
3. Reduce the amount of stimulant you consume per day, which includes caffeine and sugar. Stimulant like caffeine (and yes, sadly this includes chocolate) can exacerbate the bodies stress response and merely make you feel worse.
4. Eat well. I know you probably hear this ALL the time, but the less processed food you eat, the healthier you will be. The body does not respond well to processed foods, which include fried foods, foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, anything with preservatives, artificial coloring or flavors and most everything you can get through a drive through window…. Try and eat fresh whole fruits and vegetables, especially those that are brightly colored and organically grown.
5. Consider taking a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral. Growing up I always had my Flintstone Vitamins every morning… Turns out my mother was on to something! Maintain your health by supplementing with a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral is a great way to ensure that your body has the nutrients and micro-nutrients it needs to function properly.
6. Drink Water. I’ve always believed a person should drink eight- eight ounce glasses of water per day. This is sometimes called the 8x8 rule, which I found easy to remember. And for those of you who prefer to think bigger, this is also roughly 2 liters of water, which is what I carry around and drink from most days. Two liter bottles just seems like a lot less than eight- eight ounce glasses!! :)
7. Organize you desk, office or work space. Studies have shown that clutter can absolutely cause stress. Now, I am not suggesting you have a pristine work area… (You should see my desk- Oh MY), What I am saying is that a more organized and less cluttered work space creates less stress.
8. Managing your time more efficiently can absolutely help reduce stress. Setting a schedule and sticking to it, while not always fun, is a great way to ensure that you are able to accomplish what you need too. Time is a finite commodity, and there is only so much a person can do in a day. Ensuring that you are realistic with your expectations for yourself and what you can accomplish is important. Additionally, scheduling to for yourself and your loved ones goes a long way in overall health and happiness.
9. Exercise… Now, before you roll your eyes, I am NOT suggesting you go and get a gym membership, join expensive classes or dedicate endless hours to sweating and working out. While all those are wonderful, they are not always feasible.. Especially if you are already stressed and spend your entire time at said gym worrying about what you should be doing, or feel the pressure of an already unrealistic deadline looming. What I will suggest is that you begin by walking. Simply walking. Instead of taking the closest parking spot, park farther away and walk. Walk the dog. Walk at lunch. Walk to your next client appointment. Walk home from school with your children. Walk across campus… Simply walk. Not only will the time outside do you a world of good, but walking is great exercise.
10. And finally, when you find that you are in a stressful situation or when you feel yourself becoming stressed, pause and take a good full deep breath. Even one deep breath will begin to relax the body… When the body experiences stress, a persons breath migrates from the abdomen to the upper chest, and it becomes more shallow, and the body tenses. By breathing slower and more deeply a person can begin lowering his or her heart rate and respiration, and ultimately lowering their stress levels as well.
Box Breathing is a simple yet effective way to help the body relax and increase a persons concentration .
Our short video tutorial is coming soon- So check back!