Most of us feel stressed out some of the time. Some of us feel stressed out most of the time. Over the years this constant stress can have negative consequences for our health.
To gain fitness we must manage and manipulate stress.
When training for an athletic event we manipulate stress to make us fast and fitter. The idea behind pushing different paces or distances is to stress our muscles and cardiovascular system just enough so that when we rest, our body repairs to make us fitter. This process is called hormetic stress. This would be how “training” is different than just going out and moving—you are managing how and when to stress you system in order to get fitter/faster/stronger. I am sure you know of people who exercise regularly but don’t really change their fitness levels. Their body has become adapted to their routine and they maintain a certain level of ability but don’t stress their system in order to get fitter. So adding the appropriate stressors of exercise at the right times and doses is good stress.
But there are other stressors that aren’t healthy.
The stressors we are all aware of because we feel them often—work, relationships, finance are among the many things that cause us stress everyday and we need to manage this stress just as an athlete would manage training stress. For many people, indulging in high sugar foods, alcohol, shopping or even watching TV are common ways to cope with stress. There are some people that over exercise to cope with stress. The problem is that these methods—as good as they might feel in the moment—don’t work long term and can cause more harm than good.
So what are good ways to manage stress?
This question alone could fill many pages and, as always, different things work for different people. But here are a few places to start.
If you were suddenly startled by someone think of your reaction. More specifically, how you react with your breathing. You take in a sudden, short, shallow breath of air into your chest. This short sudden breath helps put your body into high alert. It helps to get your cortisol pumping and fight or flee if needed. I’d bet that if you feel how you breathe most of your day, you are taking shallow short breaths and not breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Deep breathing uses muscles that get “turned off” if we don’t practice using them. Breathing deeply helps relax us and counter balance the shallow breathing associated with a “high alert” state.
Try “box breathing”—the idea is simple. Breathe in deeply through your nose into your stomach feeling your chest and belly expand for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 2 and slowly exhale for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 2 and then inhale deeply for a count of 4. Try doing this for a minute or two each day—once in the morning, once in the afternoon and again in the evening OR anytime you feel stressed. Personally, I try to do it once an hour when I am aware of my breathing becoming shallow. It is amazing how well it works to settle your system. There is an app to help you with this, too. Check outboxbreathing.org
This had been in the news a lot lately. There is research showing that creating a gratitude practice helps with stress and happiness. It helps to refocus our attention on things that matter most that are positive forces rather than negative ones. Though there are a myriad of ways to do this, simply try thinking of 5 things (big or small) that your are grateful for. Do this first thing in the morning and before going to bed. Here are links to more in depth ways to practice gratitude – Huffington Post or Happify
We’ve all heard of this method for relieving stress. And personally I find some of the methods intimidating or hard. But the truth is that meditation works. There are many ways to do it and the benefits of it can be gleaned from only 5 minutes a day. You don’t have to meditate like a monk for years and years to reap the rewards. Personally I haven’t sustained a meditation practice but I know many, many people who have and swear by it to cope with anxiety and stress. Since I am by no means an expert in this area, here is a link to a site that gives an overview on different types of meditation – meditation
Pick one of the de-stress methods I have listed above and try it for 5 days. What do you have to lose?