By Jennifer Escarcega D.C. | April is National Stress Awareness Month and the perfect time to explore how stress affects our health – and how to de-stress your life. Most of us have experienced moments of stress. With our busy, fast paced lives, those moments are becoming more and more frequent. Stress not only affects your mood, but can also have negative consequences on your health. Some of the long term health consequences of stress are depression, headaches, digestive disorders, and an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and even cancer.
When you are stressed, it triggers a “fight or flight response” in the body. This response is a survival mechanism and helps keep us alive when in a dangerous situation. It causes the release of stress hormones that provide more energy to your muscles and speed up your heart rate and blood pressure, while slowing down other bodily processes that are not necessary for a survival response. Once the threat that has triggered this response is over, your body will naturally return to a state of calm and well-being. Experiencing constant stress can cause a buildup of stress hormones in the bloodstream that can have negative consequences on your health.
While you can’t eliminate all the situations that contribute to stress in your life, you can incorporate the following steps into your routine to de-stress and lessen your response to stress and to keep your “fight and flight” response in check.
Ten De-stress Tips
Step 1: Get moving. Exercise is a great way to reduce the effects of stress hormones on your body and also improve your health. Something as simple as getting outside and taking a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood can do wonders for your mood and physical health.
Step 2: Praise yourself. Too often we are our own worst critics. Congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished, and remember that a bad day does not equal a bad life.
Step 3: Focus on today. So many people spend too much time and energy dwelling on bad experiences in the past, or worrying about the future. Pouring all of your focus and energy into today sets you up to have an even better day tomorrow.
Step 4: Laugh. Whether you chose to see a comedy show, share a giggle with a close friend, or read the comic strip, laughter is a great way to relieve stress, increase your pain tolerance, and boost your immune system!
Step 5: Keep a “positive thoughts” journal. At the end of each day, take a moment to write down all the positive things that happened to you that day. Whether it was hitting all the green lights on the way to work, or the sun shining after a few days of rain, recording positive experiences, no matter how small, changes your focus from the negative things that may have occurred that day to the positive; it helps you appreciate the good in the day.
Step 6: Improve your diet. I am a big believer in the old saying “garbage in, garbage out.” Everything that we put into our bodies causes a chemical reaction. Putting foods into your body that are high in sugar, preservatives, and trans fats not only is bad for you physically, but can have a negative effect on your mood as well. Be good to yourself, especially in times of stress. Eating a diet high in organic vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats is vital to maintaining your physical and mental well-being.
Step 7: Volunteer. Most of us are ingrained with a strong sense of service and the desire to help others. Focusing on helping others and providing a service to your community provides a natural sense of accomplishment, and can boost your self-esteem and well-being.
Step 8: Get a massage. Massage therapy is a great way to relax and can actually lower blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, relieve muscular tension, and promote the production of endorphins, which are your body’s natural “feel good” chemicals.
Step 9: Leave work at the office. After a stressful day at work, the last thing you want to do is bring that home with you. It will continue to affect you and will affect your family’s mood as well. Envision your home as your sanctuary; a place of peace and calm from whatever happened in the day.
Step 10: Make a change. Sometimes we need to shake things up a bit. Making a change is a great way break up the monotony of routine and can decrease your stress levels. Whether it’s finding a new restaurant to explore with a friend or buying a different perfume, change – no matter how small – is always a good thing!