Stress can make it hard to function at our peak mental abilities. Often this can attack us just when we need it most, for example before a big test, or prior to an important presentation at work. Additionally, an increase in symptoms from allergies and chronic health conditions, as well as more serious acute health conditions (such as a heart attack), can often be traced back to stress. Living under stressful conditions on a regular basis can initiate a never ending "fight or flight" feedback loop, which will eventually wear our bodies' defenses down. Yes, you heard that right - the very system that is in place to help ensure our safety in emergency situations, can also work against us if called into action too often! It seems a little unfair, doesn't it?
The first step to beating stress is being conscious of it. Symptoms of stress can present in a variety of ways. Most of us are familiar with headaches, muscle tension, and upset stomach. However, irritability, anger and outbursts, changes in eating patterns, and restlessness can all also be symptoms of stress (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-symptoms/SR00008_D). Try to stay conscious of how your body is feeling during the day. When you realize that you are feeling stressed, try to address it by incorporating a stress beating technique into your day and/or week. There are many things that we can do that will help us break this stress cycle, and allow our bodies the true rest and recuperation that they need. Here are a few things that you can try:
- Exercise: Sometimes low-impact exercise can be very helpful in beating stress. Consider taking a walk, or doing some stretching. If possible, take a couple breaks during the day to get away from what you are doing and let your muscles stretch out a little. In this article, the Mayo Clinic explains how exercise can affect our bodies in ways that will help defeat stress: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-and-stress/SR00036.
- Meditation: Meditation has long been touted for helping to improve mental function and mood. Most of the meditation practices focus on breathing or visualization techniques that require us to work on changing the focus of our attention. And, despite the perception of meditation that many of us might have, there are actually many ways to practice that don't necessarily require you to sit still in one place the entire time! In this article, the Mayo Clinic gives some tips for how meditation can help you quickly beat stress: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070. Also, here is a nice overview of how to do active meditation, if the traditional seated style is not quite your thing: http://www.ehow.com/how_5753_active-meditation.html.
- Yoga: Yoga combines physical movement with a focus on breathing. There are a wide variety of different styles that can be practiced; some are slow and relaxing, others are more active and rejuvenating - there is even laughter yoga! So, you can try several and see which might be right for you. To learn more about yoga, you can visit the Yoga Journal site: http://www.yogajournal.com/.
- Massage: A relaxing massage works by not only providing a relaxation of your muscles, but it also promotes the release of hormones in your body that can help to quiet that "fight or flight" response and break the stress cycle. There are also many varieties of massage out there that could be investigated, everything from the traditional Swedish massage, to healing Lomilomi massage, to the more active Thai massage. This article from WebMD.com has a nice overview of some of the more popular types of massage: http://www.webmd.com/balance/massage-therapy-styles-and-health-benefits
- Creative Activities: Working on arts or crafts that require a mental and physical focus can help your mind take a break. The list of things that could fall into this category is virtually limitless! For some it could be painting or drawing, others may like home improvement projects or gardening, but you will know you have found your creative outlet when it leaves you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Health Guidance has a nice article that talks about how creative pursuits can help relieve stress: http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/8978/1/Adopt-Creative-Hobbies-to-Relieve-Stress.html
- Laughter: Remember the old adage "laughter is the best medicine"? Laughter really is good for you and can also help reset the chemical balances in your body. Consider watching a funny movie, or sharing some down time with friends and just clowning around for awhile! The Mayo Clinic explains just how laughter can help you beat stress and benefit your body in this article: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034
- Nature: Sometimes just taking a break from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, which seem to be filled with more and more technology, can be a great way to reset and relax. If you live in the city, you may be able to check out a local park or nature preserve. Or, for a longer trip, you might be able to visit a state park. Sometimes, even just sitting out in your back yard can be relaxing. Research from a professor at the University of Oregon explains how nature can help relieve stress: http://dirt.asla.org/2011/09/08/research-shows-nature-helps-with-stress/