Stress isn’t a new topic, we all hear about it frequently, and we know it’s bad for us… but I think that’s about how much thought most people give it.
We go on with our lives and acknowledge it’s part of our lives, but mostly the thoughts stop there. Think for a minute with me, when you get REALLY stressed, what do you do? What is your coping technique?
As some of you know I do health coaching part time, and I ask many of the people I talk with, how they cope with stress. And do you know what most of them answer? “I’ve never really thought about it, I guess I just turn to ______.” Usually that blank is something like food or alcohol. Or they may get into a cycle of anger and then depression, infinitely going back and forth between these two.
This is a common cycle for people to get stuck in (which I learned at a Tony Robbins event). They get so depressed and then when they can’t stand being sad anymore, they get ANGRY. They keep getting angrier and angrier until they can’t handle that anymore and then they get sad and depressed again. I bet you can think of someone who’s been, or is stuck in this cycle. Until this person changes something, the cycle never ends. If you want to know how to get out of this cycle, check out my blog post from last week, and read the part about getting into a beautiful state by using language, focus, and physiology.
Default Stress Handling
What I learned from coaching is many people don’t think about how to handle stress, they just default to a certain behavior.
As you can see from my examples above, they aren’t very healthy behaviors and don’t help with stress much in the long term. This makes sense if you think about it. Most things we default to as humans are good for the SHORT term, not the long term. Something to make you feel good in the moment (i.e. ice cream or a cookie or wine or beer etc.), but doesn’t have a lasting effect (or may have a negative lasting effect i.e weight gain or eventually alcoholism). Long term healthy behaviors tend to require work, practice, and discipline.
So What Things Does Stress Affect?
Pregnancy: High stress in pregnant women can cause their children to have behavioral and developmental issues as they age.
Stress can also effect your love life: specifically in men it can affect testosterone levels and libido, and can lead to performance anxiety and impotence.
Heart: <3 Stress can actually damage your heart muscle. Stress hormones increase your heart rate and constrict your blood vessels, which makes your heart work harder and increases your blood pressure.
Weight Gain: If you think back to the hunter-gatherer time, in tough conditions people would eat more so that when food became even less available, they would have some stored up.
That same habit is still present for us when we are stressed. Researchers at the University of Miami found that people are likely to eat 40 percent more food than normal under stressful conditions!
Premature Aging: Stress shortens telomeres (a compound structure at the end of a chromosome): which means new cells can’t grow as quickly.
This leads to: wrinkles, weak muscles, poor eyesight etc.
Weakened Immune System: Think mind body connection here: stress puts high demands on the body causing your immune system to suffer, making you more vulnerable to colds and infections.
Think about a time when you were super busy or stressed out or both, and you absolutely didn’t have to time to get sick… and you did. That was likely from the stress.
Promotes Disease: We all know that everyone is more prone to some diseases than others. Stress can cause these diseases to become active: think cancer, lung disease, liver disease. Pretty much every disease is more likely with stress and definitely is more active under heavy stress.
These are just a few examples, the list goes on and on and on. For some additional examples of the way stress affects your body, check out this article.
Here’s an example on the mild side. I have always had headaches since my head injuries, not all the time, but I usually get them 3-4 times per month and after a couple chiropractic adjustments they will go away. I have noticed if I have a headache when I leave for vacation, pretty much every time, when I am on vacation the headache will go away. I will totally forget about it. Then when I get back from vacation, the headache comes back and I will go to the chiropractor. Why did my headache disappear just while I was on vacation? My stress was decreased significantly. When the stress came back, the headache returned.
How To Handle The Stress...
Ok, so we know we all have stress, in varying degrees, and it’s REALLY affecting our health. What do we do about it?
Well there are a couple different approaches here, which I think are necessary to use in tandem. There are the things to do in the moment, and ritually to continually be decreasing your stress. I also think there are some things you can do that are difficult but can make a BIG impact on your stress level.
In the Moment and Also To Do Ritually
This in an individual thing guys, so you’ll probably have to play with it a bit to figure out what works for you. I highly suggest using a variety of things, the more tools in your toolkit for this one, the better.
Here are some ideas you can try:
A Transition between work and home life. Again this is individual, but it’s a good idea to do something after work (could be quick, 5 min) to transition you from your work self to your home self. I like to take a 5 min shower. I find that often right after work and driving home in traffic, I’m a bit cranky, for no good reason. I jump in the shower quick when I get home and I am a much happier human! You could do anything here, take a short walk, do a quick meditation, dance to a good song, play with a pet, whatever you like.
Exercise! Any kind of exercise is helpful for stress, find out what you like: My go to choice is yoga, maybe you like biking or running or climbing or swimming. Or a variety!
I very rarely get incredibly angry; but the couple times that has happened I find butt kicking exercise is what really helps me. I usually do push ups and sit ups until I collapse onto the floor and also do some intense hip hop dancing, find what works for you!
A Breathing Practice: I recommend using headspace for guided meditation. But any type of breathing/meditation practice is excellent!
Anything music related: listening to music that makes you happy, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, listening to live music.
For me, anything water related too: a shower, a bath, swimming in a lake or river, swimming in a pool, going in a hot tub etc.
Any activity that gets you into flow/working with your hands: a project, or building something, or something artsy.
Go on a vacation! Enough said there, haha.
The list goes on and one guys, find some things you like and try them out!
Talk to a loved one!
Whoever is one of your favorite people, there is something very helpful about talking to someone you love, whether on the phone or in person if you can. I tend to talk to my mom or my boyfriend or one of my best friends when I’m stressed or need some advice, I always feel better after.
Some Difficult Things That Could Have a BIG Impact
Now you know some everyday things you can do for stress. I also have a few examples of some more challenging things that could really decrease your stress level overall.
Making a Change
Sometimes we are REALLY stressed because we should change something in our life.
An easy example is being in a relationship with the wrong person. I’m sure you’ve experienced this, where you were in a relationship with someone and were just totally miserable. So you eventually got fed up and ended the relationship, and I bet you felt better in the long run.
Another example is spending time with someone who just brings you down, maybe a friend or a relative who is just always negative or mean.
One final example: your job. I know some people who just HATE their jobs and it causes them so much stress, maybe think about finding a job you at least like, and hopefully love some aspect of it. I don’t know anyone that loves every moment of their job, but I know many people that love their job as a whole or many parts of it.
Have a Difficult Conversation
Do you have something you’d like to talk to someone about, but you’re scared or nervous or worried about having the conversation? Do it anyways.
I used to avoid difficult conversations mostly, because I wanted to get along with everyone and I figured it was better to just not bring some things up. But have you noticed, if you don’t have that conversation, you keep having the conversation in your head? It sticks with you right, it just keeps coming up in your mind over and over and over. And it’s a subject that stresses you out, but the stress can never resolve if you don’t talk about it. I’ve found the conversations where I’ve had to push myself to be the most vulnerable, have also been the most rewarding and/or the most healing.
And sometimes they are really difficult, but some may also surprise you and you’ll learn more about the person you’re taking to, and it could even improve your relationship. Remember to approach the conversation with love and understanding if you can. Remember there are two points of view. Be patient.
Just a warning: it could also change or end a relationship. I’ve had difficult conversations with friends that have ended the relationship, but those instances are friends that were dragging me down anyways. We parted ways kindly and the weight of that friendship lifted.
Obviously, use your discretion. You know what’s right in your heart, I’ve just found in my life that addressing these things and talking about them has significantly decreased my stress overall.
Compromise! And/Or Change Your Expectation
This one is easier said than done, but life requires compromise, work together!
Also if you find your expectations getting in the way, maybe change your expectations. As Tony Robbins would say, “Turn your expectations into APPRECIATION, and your whole life will change!”
Guys, I think the secret to most things is gratitude. If you’re feeling incredibly grateful, it’s hard to complain or be stressed, right? Make gratitude a daily practice! I suggest placing your hands over your heart, listening to calming music, and thinking about what you’re grateful for. Make sure to reflect on what you’re grateful for often! Namaste 🙂 (Namaste definition: It’s a respectful form of saying hello and acknowledging and honoring others. Essentially it’s a way of saying “I see you,” meaning all of them, their light and love etc.)