We all experience stress at one time or another. Sometimes it slowly builds as commitments and obligations pile upon us. Other times it strikes with little warning and causes an acute attack of anxiety or depression. High levels of stress is especially common this time of year when everything is so busy. It can suck our enjoyment out of the holidays.
What is the best way to deal with stress?
My favorite book of all time is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. A central theme of the book is built around the word timshel, which means thou mayest. Thou mayest is an incredibly powerful statement. Think about it. It’s not you can or you will. It’s you may, if you choose to do so. The choice is yours to make and you are completely free to make that choice.
Thou mayest is a great way to approach stress. You can choose to allow the situations in your life to overwhelm you and create a downward spiral, or you can choose to rise above and deal with stress head on. You can’t always control what happens in your life, but you can certainly control how you choose to deal with it. Let’s talk about simple ways to reduce the feeling of stress in the moment.
Focus on your breath. Sit up in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands relaxed in your lap. Breathe slowly and breathe deeply into your stomach. Allow your lower rib cage to widen and expand. Feel peace enter your body as you inhale and stress exit your body as you exhale. Shallow breathing increases stress. Deep breathing brings oxygen into your blood and clears your mind.
Call a friend. This is my favorite one. When you are feeling overwhelmed it helps to talk about what is bothering you. Holding it all inside allows it to fester and you become trapped in destructive, circular thinking. Talking to a friend helps put everything back into perspective and the reassuring voice of someone who cares will calm you down as well.
Listen to music. Turn off the radio – the stuttering beats and emotional lyrics in many songs can excite the nervous system and increase your feelings of anxiety and stress. Instead, put on some relaxing classical music or soothing ocean and nature sounds. Calm music positively affects your body by lowering blood pressure. It also reduces the amount of cortisol released. Cortisol is a stress hormone and too much of it can lead to fatigue, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
Have a cup of green tea. Green tea is a great replacement for coffee or other caffeinated beverages because it typically contains half the amount of caffeine. Caffeine increases your blood pressure and stimulates the adrenal glands, which makes you feel even more anxious and stressed out. Green tea provides a healthy dose of antioxidants as well as theanine – an amino acid that has a calming and soothing effect on the nervous system.
Exercise. Feeling trapped in the middle of a stressful situation? One of the best things you can do is get moving! A short walk provides a fresh environment and helps your mind shift away from stressful thoughts. It also gets your blood pumping and releases endorphins – those feel good hormones that improve your mood almost instantly.
Sleep. The five tips above are excellent ways to immediately reduce feelings of stress. Getting enough sleep helps you better deal with stress long-term and throughout the entire day. In fact, it is one of the most effective ways to combat stress. Sleep is a basic necessity – commit to getting 7-8 hours per night. Adequate sleep improves your mood and cognitive performance. It also reduces the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands.
The next time you are feeling stressed, choose to deal with it constructively. Avoid using food, alcohol, or withdrawal – they only provide temporary relief and come with their own host of problems. Remember, you cannot always control the sources of stress in your life, but can absolutely control how you choose to deal with them.