Everyone experiences stress differently. You may have a hard time concentrating or making decisions, feel angry, irritable or out of control, or experience headaches, muscle tension or a lack of energy. When we're stressed, we tend to deal with it in unhealthy ways like comfort eating, poor diet choices, smoking and inactivity. Those of us who are stressed are more likely to report hypertension, anxiety or depression and obesity. Chronic stress can also impact your immune system, which lowers your resistance to getting sick.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is defined as a repeatedly elevated blood pressure exceeding 140 over 90 mmHg.
Approaching stress management from a wellness lifestyle approach can be considered an investment in preventing stress, and can give you the energy you need to handle stress when it happens. In other words, stress is a part of life, but the healthier you are, the better able you are to manage your stress. If you feel chronically overwhelmed, try shifting your perspective. Rather than seeing stress as something on the outside pushing in, see yourself pushing it away, and consider these proven ways to get out from under its grip.
- Take charge
- Take a break
- Reach out, don't retreat
- Eat moderately
- Keep moving
- Practice mindful relaxation
If your work schedule sets your teeth to grinding, make a list of projects you need to get done and front-load it with tasks you can accomplish quickly. As you check off accomplishments, you'll begin to feel in control, and your stress will ease. Try scheduling daily chores so that you can attack the most difficult ones when your energy level is highest. And delegate. Not just to coworkers but also to your children, your spouse, and your friends.
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Of course, you can't control everything. Your child's schedule will inevitably conflict with your work deadlines; bad weather will flood the picnic. But if you disrupt stressful moments with calm ones, you can lessen the negative impact of stress on your body. And it's easier than you think to get positive results. Distract yourself with something you find soothing: Cook, knit, or break out the watercolors. If you can't take off for the afternoon when you feel your stress rising at the office, then just get out for a walk. Even a short stroll can make a difference.
Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. So indulge in the pleasure of social interaction. Invite old pals to a night out. Call your sister. Recent studies show that Americans are feeling more isolated; try to fight that situation.
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The same hormones that boost your body's supply of available energy in fighting off an impending threat ("fight or flight") also tell your brain that you need to replenish that energy once it's used up. The result: You go for pizza, potato chips, and ice cream in an effort to refuel quickly. If you're going through a stressful period, fight the urge to snack endlessly. Rather, eat small low-carb, low-fat meals.
Try to exercise regularly. Working out counteracts the unhealthy buildup of body fat and dispels the nervous energy that often drives you to that carton of ice cream. The exercise doesn't have to be strenuous. Walking releases endorphins that can soothe a rattled mind. And even half an hour a day can ease insomnia, which is both a symptom of stress and a stressor.
Endorphins are one of the chemicals produced by the body that serve to suppress pain.
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Relaxation is the opposite of stress. The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes your physical and emotional responses to stress. Studies have shown that practicing relaxation lower heart rates, blood pressure and oxygen consumption. Mindfulness quiets your chattering mind by teaching you how to observe your thoughts and feelings without seeing them as positive or negative. It trains you to use your breathing and an awareness of your body to focus on the here and now.
Eliciting the relaxation response is simple: Once or twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes, sit in a relaxed position, eyes closed, and repeat a word or sound as you breathe. Some people use such words as "love" or "peace." Others say traditional prayers. If your thoughts stray, just refocus on the word repetition.
There are scores of other ways to summon the relaxation response, as well. Anything that breaks the train of everyday thought will evoke this physiological state. That includes participating in repetitive sports such as running, letting go of tension through progressive muscular relaxation, practicing yoga, knitting, crocheting, and even playing musical instruments.
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