STRESS STOPPERS

by Sherry Obenauer, M.A., M.Ed.

Are you stressed? Have you ever felt stressed? The majority of people will answer "yes" to at least one of these questions. Unfortunately, most of us don't know how to decrease our stress levels or we claim not to have the time to do something about it. However, there are many ways of dealing with stress and many of them take only seconds to perform. Given the staggering incidence of stress-related diseases and illnesses, no one can afford to ignore doing something about it. 

One of the most common ways in which many of us choose to decrease our stress levels is by exercising regularly (30 minutes four days each week). Aerobic exercise is an excellent way to decrease stress as it causes our bodies to release endorphins and a number of other healing/calming chemicals. Further, exercise improves our physical and mental health, thereby, decreasing the risk of getting ill and increases recovery time if we do become ill. Also, exercise allows us to divert our attention away from the stress and toward our workout. 

A second way to decrease the effects of stress is by eating healthfully. What we eat greatly affects how we feel and think. If we eat foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and sugar, irritability, headaches, digestion problems, inability to concentrate, nervousness, and a variety of other symptoms can develop which greatly impede our ability to function. Similarly, those who drink high amounts of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol and consume very little water, milk, or juice often experience similar negative symptoms. Eating poorly or irregularly compounds stress. Eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, protein, grain, and calcium products and drinking at least six glasses of water per day enables our bodies to function in a much more efficient fashion. 

Meditation, yoga, and tai chi are other ways to combat stress and its effects. All of these methods allow us to transcend our stress to a place of calm serenity. By focusing on our body movements, an object, or a sound, we are distracted away from stress. These are excellent ways of becoming more in tune with our body and inner strengths. 

Breathing is another way to control stress and only takes a few moments. Typically, when we are stressed, our heart rate increases and breathing becomes very shallow and rapid. This depletes the body of the essential oxygen it needs in order to operate. By taking deep breaths that flow into our stomach and not just to the lungs quickly decreases stress. Deep breathing also tends to slow down heart rate. Over time, one can replace shallow breathing with deeper breathing without having to consciously focus on it. 

Shoulder shrugs are yet another effective way to decrease stress, since most of us feel stress in our shoulders. Simply tensing the shoulders while raising them to the ears and then totally relaxing them a few times, quickly releases tension. Sitting up straight and taking walking breaks helps too. People who sit much of the time tend to slouch, which causes shoulder pain. 

Stretching is a terrific way to control stress as many of us feel muscle tension when stressed. Stretching should always precede any form of exercise in order to warm and loosen up the muscles and to avoid injury. When stretching, it is very important to gradually extend the muscles and not bounce. Further, never stretch to the point of pain. Instead, extend the muscles to a point of tension or pull. Hyper-extending muscles causes sprains and strains. 

A lot of stress has to do with the way in which we talk to ourselves. Negative self-talk puts a tremendous strain on both the body and self-esteem. Most of us aren't even aware of how we talk to ourselves or the negative messages and beliefs we harbor in our heads. The first step is to become aware by paying attention to what you're saying to yourself when becoming stressed or angry. Writing them down can help. Chances are it's something negative about your ability or value. 

The second step is to replace such negative self-statements with positive ones (whether you believe them or not). Third, you must rehearse the positive statements. Posting them up around the house and stating them out loud quickens the process. Whenever you catch yourself saying one of the negative statements, cut in with the positive ones. Eventually, the positive will take over the negative self-talk. This method is a very rewarding and effective way for managing stress. You're much more able to handle stress when you believe you can and feel good about yourself. 

Sometimes an inability to cope with stress is related to a lack of sleep. Many of us are sleep deprived and receive fewer than six hours of sleep per night. However, seven to nine hours of sleep are needed to allow the body to recover and regenerate. This amount tends to decrease as we age. In addition, it is common for us to require afternoon siestas or cat naps of about an hour each day. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot catch up on a lack of proper sleep on the weekends. 

If stress is prolonged or intense, sharing with others is essential. We are social beings, not islands, and allowing our pride to get in the way of getting needed help and support is foolish and dangerous. Others can be a great source of support and may even be able to help lessen the load. Seeking a professional's aid when needed takes more courage than denying a problem. 

Other ways to cope with stress include doing something fun. Taking some time each day to read, have a bath, listen to music, go for a walk, spend time with a friend, enroll in a class, ride a bike, ski, watch a movie, volunteer, create something, journal, stroke a pet, sit in silence, clean, shop, or anything else you might enjoy goes a long way to alleviate stress. 

Smoking, drugs, and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol are not healthy or effective stress relievers despite what many people think. They place a tremendous strain on the body and interfere with the brain's chemical balance and functioning. Consuming one to two glasses of alcohol each day has been shown to lengthen a person's life span by two years, however, anything more greatly decreases one's life span and increases the risk for liver disease. 

Regardless of which method(s) you pick in order to relieve your stress, doing something is essential. Some stress may be relieved simply by changing your situation. Many of us underestimate the power we have to impact our surroundings. Negotiating with those around you and learning some effective time management skills can go a long way to relieving stress. 

Living a balanced life is the key to having a stress-free lifestyle. All work and no play, poor nutrition, no exercise, and few relationships can have severe negative consequences in the long run. Stress is often a sign that our lives are unbalanced in some way. The key is to find the imbalance, do something about it and to learn methods that decrease the stress. Complaining solves nothing. Stop stress from stressing you out! 

References 

  • Blanchard, E.B., Nicholson, N.L., Taylor, A.E., Steffek, B.D., Radnitz, C.L., & Appelbaum, K.A. (1991). The role of regular home practice in the relaxation treatment of tension headache. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59(3), 467-470. 
  • Hiebert, B., & Basserman, D. (1986). Coping with job demands and avoiding stress: A gram of prevention. Canadian Administrator, 26(1), 1-6. 

09/23/01

Return to the Stress Articles Index Page

Sherry Lynn Obenauer is 33 years old and resides in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She has a masters degree in gerontology and counseling psychology. Her thesis in gerontology was titled, "Relationships Between Health, Occupation, and Cognition." She has completed a comprehensive writing diploma from Quality of Course, Ottawa, Ontario.

Sherry currently works as a freelance writer and has published a articles on a number of topics including, aging, poetry, psychology, politics, pets, humor, teen issues, short stories, and biographies.

Sherry can be contacted at 403-239-8965 and leave an email address where you may be reached.

Articles written by Sherry Lynn Obenauer for SelfHelp Magazine:

Depress Your Depression
How to Get a Great Job
How to Communicate More Effectively
Stress Stoppers
How to Get a Great Job
Single and Satisfied

 

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