Did you know that nearly 90% of visits to the doctor can be linked back to stress? Whether increased stress is causing you to sleep poorly, crave sugar, hold physical tension in your body or think anxious thoughts, these are all damaging to your mind, body and overall health. When you manage your stress effectively, you are taking powerful control over your overall health and wellness.
So, if you are even more stressed about the negative impact of your stress on your health, take a deep breath! There are many ways you can begin to take control of your stress today. I will cover three powerful ways to help you begin to manage your stress more effectively.
The stress response, increased cortisol and adrenaline rushing through your system, is super necessary for your survival. However, when it is being stimulated excessively and so many things seems to potentially increase your stress levels, you are setting yourself up for poor health in mind and body. The body does not know the difference between an actual stressor and a perceived stressor—meaning one that is happening only in your mind.
When you are worrying, living in fear or having anxious anticipation thoughts, you are causing the same response in your body as if they were actually happening. This is not good! You want to live in a space of rest and digest mode. The number one way to help the body transition from fight or flight to rest and digest is the breath. The breath is the first strategy on the list, and if it is the only one you read, you can impact your health for the better just by this one strategy! When you change the quality of your breath, you change the quality of your life.
When you are breathing properly, you create improved health by calming your nervous system. A full, diaphragmatic breath oxygenates the blood, reduces cortisol and adrenaline levels and brings you out of your head and into the present moment.
Try this, place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. Notice which hand is moving as you breathe. Now, begin to direct your breath to expand your abdomen as you inhale and draw the navel in towards your spine as you exhale. Begin to slow down your breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose. This is how we are meant to breathe. If you find you are not breathing in this manner, don’t stress! Just take a hold of your breath, expand your abdomen as you inhale and draw your navel in towards your spine. The breath is completely free and always available to return to anytime you need it.
2. Relax Your Body
What happens to your body when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or when you are lost in your thoughts? You may be carrying tension unconsciously in your body. When you are thinking about a perceived stressor, such as, “I’m running late” you will most likely tense up your body. Everyone has “hot spots,” places where we tend to carry tension the most. For me, I clench my jaw and tighten up through my neck and shoulders. I’ve had TMJ in the past and chronic neck pain. Learning to relax my body has created all the difference.
Relaxing your body goes beyond just laying down or sitting in front of the TV. When you learn to relax your muscles, you are releasing pent up emotional and physical tension held within your body. I am a yoga-person and I wholeheartedly recommend trying yoga as a way to learn to deeply relax your body. If yoga’s not for you, that’s ok! There are many guided relaxations that you can try without knowing downward dog (check out this 5 minute guided relaxation) . It is helpful to have a daily plan to pick three times during the day that you will scan your body in your mind’s eye and notice if you are holding tension anywhere you don’t need to be. If there is tension, try not to judge yourself, just relax the muscles and let any tension go.
3. Learn to Let Go of Thoughts
If thoughts are one of the primary triggers of the stress response, learning to manage your mind is one of the most powerful tools you have to manage your stress. This is an element that may seem simple, but it is definitely not easy. Being able to let go of a thought that is causing physical and emotional tension is incredibly empowering. It begins with the understanding that thoughts are just that: thoughts. They are not the truth, thoughts come and they go. It is the nature of the mind to constantly chatter.
If you find you are stuck on a thought, you can ask yourself, “is this thought true?” “Is this thought useful?” If the answer to either of these questions is NO, it will be freeing to let the thought go. If you can’t seem to let a fear-based thought go despite knowing that it is not true and that it is definitely not useful, you can examine why it is there at all. You can ask yourself, “why am I having this thought?” “What is having this thought doing to me?” “How would I feel without this thought in my mind?” When you examine your thoughts in this way, you can engage with your logical thinking. Once you are able to let the thought go, relax your body and bring your focus to your breath.
When you use these strategies together, you can significantly impact your experience of stress. Stress is inevitable, it is how you manage it that makes all the difference. Try integrating these three powerful strategies to reduce your stress today!