So, what is stress?
In simple terms, it is the way our minds and bodies respond when we try to cope with our continually changing lives. Stress is not your sick child, or your crazy work hours; rather it is the body’s internal reaction to these triggers. Stress causes changes in your body such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, faster breathing, muscle tension, dilated pupils, dry mouth and increased blood sugar. Put your body through these changes on a continual basis, and it’s no surprise that stress is one of the biggest reasons for illness in the world today.
By virtue of the world we live in, it isn’t possible to click on the delete button and eliminate all the triggers of stress in our lives. This is simply not realistic. Rather, we need to recognise the triggers and then take corrective action. If we don’t know what is causing the stress, it can’t be managed. So, how do we recognise stress in our lives?
Keep a stress journal! Record what happened, when it happened, how you felt and how you reacted. Do this every day for at least a week. Slowly, patterns will start to emerge and you will see exactly what is causing your stress. Recognising the triggers is the first step in the management of your stress levels.
Now that you know what pushes your buttons, you can actively start to change the way you think, as well as change your lifestyle and the way you act. Changing your thought patterns isn’t easy. It takes discipline and commitment, but the rewards are worth it. When something happens to you, you are able to choose how to view it. Remember it’s not the events themselves that are stressful, it’s how we perceive them. So, choose to see the glass half full as opposed to half empty. Choose to think positively. Choose to wake up and be grateful for everything in your life, choose to see opportunities and challenges rather than problems and stress.
Ok, you’ve made the journal, you have recognised the patterns, you are working hard at being positive. What else can you do?
Tell a friend
Sharing is important. We are not saying you need to moan and groan about it, and wallow in self-pity. However, sharing your experiences, letting your frustration out and getting it off your chest is crucial. Find a person to talk to, or a forum online that gives you the opportunity to vent – rather get the anger and frustration out, then let it sit and simmer.
Take some me time
More and more research shows that to live a happy, balanced and successful life, one needs to put aside time for leisure and pleasure. Take a day off. Read a book. Go for a walk. Watch a movie. Go surfing. Bottom line is to take time for yourself, in whatever way you wish.
Avoid your stress triggers
Once you have started a journal, and can start seeing where your stress comes from, you might need to make some hard and fast decisions in terms of lifestyle changes. Perhaps you need to adjust your working hours, or leave earlier in the morning to avoid the traffic, or cut off a particular friendship. As far as possible, you need to avoid the reasons for your rise in stress levels and put yourself first.
Watch what you eat
Nutrition plays a vital role in the healthy functioning of our bodies and therefore our stress levels. Eat a balanced diet and try and cut down on alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Salt, sugar and dairy tend to promote the release of adrenalin, decreasing your tolerance to stress and impacting negatively on your cardiovascular health. Moderation is key here. Ensure you take your vitamins and eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains and legumes. Eating well will nourish your nerves, improve circulation, feed your muscles and promote a general feeling of well being.
Move your body. When you are stressed your body feels this, and can go into a state of high energy. Logically, it makes sense that to get rid of this excess energy, we need to exercise. Also, endorphins, the chemical released when you exercise, make you happy! When deciding to start exercising, try and find something that you enjoy. When something is pleasurable, there is more chance that you will want to do it over and over again.
Yes, we have all heard it before. Getting your 8 hours of sleep a night is important. This importance is increased when we are under stress. Our bodies need time to rest, and by having regular sleeping patterns we will awake feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
While meditation has its origins placed firmly in the heart of religion, you do not need to be a religious person to indulge in a little quiet time. Take ten or twenty minutes daily to simply breathe, trying to focus only on your breath. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm and as you do so imagine the breath travelling to your toes. Then imagine it going up your legs, your buttocks, your spine. Let it travel along your arms to your fingers. Feel it in your neck. Feel it in your organs. Just feel it!
Do something creative
Many creative people firmly believe that creativity cannot be used up because doing anything creative simply begets more creativity. Now if you are feeling “uninspired” as a result of stress, the best thing to do for yourself is let go, and do something creative and silly. Go out and buy a bottle of bubbles and blow them in the garden. Get yourself some crayons and draw a picture. Grab a recipe book and make something that you wouldn’t usually dare to try. Paint your nails an outrageous colour. Skip from your car to your front door! Take up a pottery class. Stress kills inspiration much in the same way that inspiration dilutes stress. Try it.
Reading takes you out of your own world and puts you somewhere else for a while. Long holidays in exotic locations might not be a reality for you right now, but taking a brain-break is as accessible as a trip to your nearest library.
I hope we have given you a few ideas to limit the stress in your life. Personally, I believe that in order to live each day to the full, and be happy, you need to find meaning in what you do. With meaning comes satisfaction. With passion comes enjoyment. Goodbye stress, hello life!