Nobody can avoid stress, it is a normal and natural part of life. Stress is simply a fact of life, and evolution has bestowed upon our brains many mechanisms for handling the ups and downs of our lives. Our brains are built with multiple systems, from neurochemicals that shut off stress hormones to whole networks of the nervous system that are built to create calm in the body. The problem, however, is that in the context of today’s world we are nearly always engaged in some sort of stressful activity. In the age of the internet and cell phones we are constantly “on,” which means our brains do not get the rest they need to best utilize these natural calming systems of the brain. In fact, claims for depression are now the fastest growing disability category in the US, and stress is one of the main factors in developing or worsening depression.
Americans cope with stress in all the wrong ways. Our favorite ways of dealing with stress in this country are taking time off from exercise, eating our favorite “comfort foods” and watching television. Besides the fact that they are simply not healthy behaviors, the problem with these coping mechanisms is that they keep us from doing things that would actually help reduce stress in our lives. In this article we will review the best ways to deal with stress. So next time you are tempted to grab a piece of pizza and watch TV, remember that you would be better served by remembering these lessons about stress.
- Breathe: Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly has an immediate impact on the body. Deep breaths help slow the heart rate and oxygenate the blood, helping you relax almost immediately. Short, shallow breaths can cause the heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up, increasing stress on the body and mind. When you are feeling stress, taking time to breathe deeply into the diaphragm can create immediate sensations of relaxation. After all, breath is life, and we can’t live without it!
- Exercise regularly: Besides the fact that exercise protects the heart and keeps us healthy, exercise also releases and reduces levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the brain. Although cortisol plays a role in helping us be ready to deal with stress, too much cortisol with no way for release has vast negative effects on the body and mind. Exercise reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and floods the body with good feeling hormones that reduce stress.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables: We all know that fruits and vegetables are an integral part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that counterbalance the inflammatory proteins the body produces under stress.
- Make friends: Research psychologists have proven the connection between social isolation and stress and depression. Social isolation can increase the physiological and psychological damage caused by stress. Having even a few close friends which you can confide in and see on a regular basis can lower stress and reduce the chances of depression.
- Don’t stay up late: Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is beneficial to the body and mind. Irregular sleep patterns increase the effects of stress on the body. This can also set the body up for a number of physical diseases including metabolic imbalances.
- Take a vacation: A change of surroundings can help clear the mind and recharge the body. But remember, a vacation is only a vacation when you leave work and social media behind.
- Do what you love: In today’s society, many people have to take the work that they can get as opposed to the work that they love. Those who don’t love what they do for work have increased levels of stress on a day-to-day basis. Having a sense of mission and purpose at work makes it easier to deal with life’s setbacks. So if you can’t find joy at work, it’s important to have hobbies that you love. Doing things you enjoy is a great way to release and relieve stress.