Chronic stress runs rampant in our culture. It almost seems like some of us wear our chronic stress like it is a badge of honor. Chronic stress is not only bad for us, it can be the root of many health conditions, such as digestive issues, insomnia, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
We have four sources of chronic stress:
Perceived Stress – Everyone knows, and can relate to this one. Stress related to work, relationships, finances, or kids fit in here. Our body doesn’t know the difference between a perceived threat, or real threat. Running from a bear, and financial stress is all the same to our HPA-Axis.
Inflammation – Cortisol is a powerful anti-inflammatory substance. Chronic or acute inflammation stimulates cortisol release, which triggers the HPA-Axis (1). Check out this Turmeric & Ginger Elixir Recipe for a tasty anti-inflammatory treat.
Circadian Rhythm Disruption – The HPA-Axis and our circadian rhythm work intimately with each other. Sleep deprivation, working night shift, using electronics before bed, working indoors without natural light, and jet lag all disrupts our circadian rhythm, which ends up disrupting our HPA-Axis (2). Please see this post to learn to support your natural circadian rhythm.
Blood Sugar Dysregulation – The HPA-Axis partially controls our blood sugar. When we are stimulated into a fight-or-flight situation, cortisol is released. Cortisol increases our blood sugar, giving our muscles immediate energy in preparation of running for our lives or throwing punches and kicks. Alternatively, a poor diet causing a continual up and down fluctuation in blood sugar (think sugar crashes), will stimulate cortisol production when blood sugar drops. This cortisol produced due to low blood sugar also stimulates the HPA-Axis (3). A classic symptom here is getting hangry between meals, rather than just hungry. Please see this post on how to start eating a healthy, low inflammatory, blood sugar stabilizing diet.
Here are tips to reduce our perceived, psychological & emotional stress; the type of stress everyone knows and can relate to.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE TO STRESS
Here are a few simple but effective tips on how to reduce our total amount of stress:
- Learn to Say No – Many of us have a difficult time saying no and end up overcommitting ourselves. Overcommitment makes us feel like there is not enough time, and like we are letting others or ourselves down. Learning to say “thank you for thinking of me, but I am unable to attend/do that/commit” is a powerful way to reduce unnecessary stress.
- Avoid People Who Stress You Out – Of course this is not always possible, but we can choose to limit our time with people we know are prone to drama, friction or conflict.
- Quit Watching the News – The news sensationalizes the worst of our world. Of course, it is good to be aware of what is happening on the planet, but watching the mainstream news shows the worst of what humans are capable of. I personally never watch the news. It makes me sad. Instead, I choose to find positive, encouraging and uplifting news elsewhere, such as here.
- Delegate Out Your Lowest Valued Tasks – If you feel stressed because there are not enough hours in the day, think about delegating someone else to do your lowest valued tasks. Get a cleaning lady to come to your home for a couple hours each week, get someone else to do your laundry, get a bookkeeper. Find areas of your life you can delegate out to free up more space for your more important tasks.
- Quit Pointless Arguments – This includes useless in-person disputes, as well as futile internet debates. Pointless arguments do nothing to advance our goals, especially when both sides are entrenched in their view. Also, debating people in comment threads on Facebook and other social media is rarely fruitful. Seldom will a person change their opinion or point of view based on that kind of dialogue.
- Limit Your To-Do List – Ask yourself if everything on your to-do list is essential. If not, nix off unnecessary tasks to free up more time.
HOW TO MITIGATE THE EFFECTS OF STRESS WE CANNOT AVOID
Our thought patterns affect our perception of stress. Here are ways we can decrease the effects of the stress we cannot avoid:
- Reframe the Situation – Look at the stressful situation in a more positive light, or in a different context. For example, if you are stuck in traffic, see it as an opportunity to listen to a great podcast instead of fighting against something you cannot control. Another example, if you are gearing up to give a public talk, think of the palpitations, sweaty palms and butterflies in your stomach as excitement rather than nervous stress.
- Lower Your Expectations and Standards – With perfectionism comes a whole lot of unnecessary stress. For example, if you are planning a wedding and it is not looking like it is going to be as perfect as you would like, reframe the situation. The guests are going to remember the wedding for the fun they had, the smile on the bride’s face, and how in love the couple looked. They won’t remember that there were a few napkins that didn’t match.
- Practice Acceptance – Learn to accept things we cannot change. This doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make positive changes in the world. What it does mean is that in each moment, we recognize that the moment is as it is, and that struggling against the moment as it is, just creates additional suffering.
- Practice Gratitude – An attitude of gratitude goes a long way in creating contentment and happiness, which are the opposite feelings of stress. Keep a gratitude journal. Write all the things you are grateful for each day. They can be as big as your children, or as small as a scent from a beautiful flower. Families can develop a gratitude practice together as well. Sometime in the evening, everyone takes a turn explaining three different things they were grateful for that day.
- Cultivate Empathy for Yourself and Others – When we feel compassion for ourselves and others, we understand where others are coming from, and learn to be less identified with their position.
- Manage Your Time – Placing careful boundaries around our time and learning to say no, which we just spoke about, is very important when it comes to reducing or mitigating the stress we cannot avoid.
TIPS ON BEGINNING A STRESS MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
Here are some tips we can use when beginning a stress management program:
- Start Small – If you are new to incorporating a stress management habit, such as meditation into your life, commit to just 5 minutes a day rather than something outlandish such as an hour a day. Once we are used to a daily 5-minute practice, we can slowly increase our time. Starting small makes it much easier to succeed, rather than starting with a big commitment right up front.
- Make Stress Management a Priority – Schedule stress management into your calendar, just as you would any other important task you have to complete.
- Be Gentle with Yourself – If you miss a day here or there, don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, just start again tomorrow.
- Choose a Practice that Resonates with You – There are so many options – meditation, mindfulness, yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, qi gong, walking in nature, gardening, anything that you find reduces stress. We do not have to limit ourselves to one practice. You can find a mix of practices that best fits you, your personality, and your lifestyle.
I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Do you make an effort to manage your stress? What works for you?
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