There is unanimous agreement among healthcare professionals that stress can make you sick, reduce your quality of life and in some cases, even end your life. High blood pressure, insomnia, digestive disorders, premature aging, and depression are just some of the risks of unmanaged anxiety. What is also true is that it is often insidious. We get accustomed to the internal “buzz” that stress creates, and it just becomes integrated into our every day experience. We may tell ourselves that we are fine, or even feel pleased about getting through yet another day of pressure without having a meltdown. We might not even notice that we are living our lives in “fight or flight” mode – when we have a strong stress reaction, the chemicals secreted by the brain stay with us, even when the acute stress has passed.
Many people accept that this is just a fact of life – you may tell yourself that you are a caregiver, a corporate executive, a parent, an adult child of a declining parent, a small business owner – and that stress is just part of that kind of responsibility. Maybe so – but there are strong indications that the residuals of constant stress need attention for us to stay well.
Each of us has the ability to do something about it. Maybe preventing it entirely is unrealistic – but can you improve how you of handling these moments? Although this is not new information, it might be helpful to pause, and take a look at the influence that stress is having on your life. Maybe there is nothing to do about the actual stressors – they are real and often not in your control. Don’t give up - the process doesn’t end there. Consider that trying to reduce or change the cause of the stress may not be the only answer and that managing your response to it might be another option. Trying to change the fact that your Mom has dementia, or your adolescent kid is defiant and difficult with you, or that the company you work for is being sold and your job security is up in the air – well, that’s a pretty tall order. But what could you do?
Following are some suggestions. Why not take 60 seconds, take a breath, and read them with an open mind? Is there just one thing on this list that you might try to reduce what are known to be damaging chemical responses in your body?
Any of these strategies might change your habitual response and help your nervous system cope with the effect that stress inevitably will have on your well- being. Challenge yourself to pick just one and notice any difference in how you feel.
- Make a healthier food choice at least once a day
- Exercise – you know the recommendations – start small and increase as you start to notice the benefits
- Practice yoga whenever you can -- you don’t need to know anything, be anything, or have any particular experience – beginner classes (or online videos) abound
- Meditate (Fact: 5 minutes a day can change your brain for the better!)
- Be mindful about your reactions to difficult situations, one moment at a time – take a deep breath as soon as you notice a stress response. Mindfulness is very calming to your system
- Give yourself a “time out” to relax, pamper yourself – once a week! (get a massage, take a bath, walk in nature, read an enjoyable book)
- Think about your attitude – change it if it doesn’t serve you; it can be challenging but worth the effort – more mindfulness!
- Stay socially engaged – spend time with a friend, someone you find to be nurturing and avoid social interactions that make you tense
- If your sleep is compromised, practice good sleep hygiene (no screen at least one hour before going to sleep, eat your last meal well before bedtime, etc)
Try at least one of these for a month (take it a day, or a moment, at a time). It is unlikely that you will not discover some benefit in taking better care of yourself. As we’ve all heard “This is not a dress rehearsal”. It is our only chance to enjoy this life.