It’s totally normal. Everyone gets stressed out once in awhile…but, what isn’t okay is letting stress rob us of our happiness, peace, and balance. We shouldn’t get accustomed to stress levels that are constantly heightened- robbing us of the joys of life and diminishing our ability to live in the present moment.
Stress isn’t just unpleasant. It can be dangerous and debilitating. Left unaddressed, it can negatively affect your job, your sleep, and your relationships; it can make you gain weight, develop skin problems, and lose interest in sex. Worse yet, stress can have a negative impact on your health.
According to WebMD, chronic, untreated stress can raise your blood pressure, upset your stomach, and even cause heart attacks!
There are a number of ways to soothe frazzled nerves, but it helps to first recognize how you typically respond to stress. We tend to respond in one of three ways: we either fight, take flight, or become paralyzed.
When exposed to stress, the fighters among us typically become angry, anxious, and agitated. Those who take flight are likely to become depressed and withdrawn. The third group simply shuts down in the face of adversity, unable to muster any clear response.
How to stop “fighting”
If you’re a fighter, you can turn down the agitation with activities that have a calming effect. The simple act of breathing deeply and focusing on your breath – the essence of meditation – is a good start. Deep breathing from the abdomen, as opposed to shallow breathing from the upper chest, nourishes your system with greater oxygen intake and begins to reduce tension.
Practice staying in the moment. It may help to focus on a repetitive word, a self-affirming phrase, or something visual – like a painting or a burning candle. Staying calm and focusing on the present helps you regain your equilibrium.
By being mindful, acknowledging your stress, and exploring ways to defuse it, you can find other healthy ways to balance your emotions. Yoga, tea, aromatherapy, a warm bath, and music can all help. And, laughter really is great medicine! The act of laughing alone reduces stress hormones and boosts endorphins. Feeling frazzled? Turn on your favorite Aziz Ansari special or call a friend who always cracks you up.
If you “take flight”
If you become withdrawn, you can regain control of your emotional state by engaging in physically stimulating activities. A brisk walk, jogging or running, rhythmic exercise, biking, power yoga or anything else that energizes your nervous system is a good first step. Again, be mindful and present. Feel your feet as they touch the ground. Feel the muscles in your arms and back. Notice your breath as you inhale and exhale. (PS: Sex is an awesome workout!)
Exercise not only improves your overall health and wellbeing; like laughter, it releases endorphins which help you overcome depression and anxiety.
What to do if you simply shut down
If you tend to freeze up in response to stress, you need to get your arms and legs moving again- try walking, running, or dancing for a few minutes. Then, really focus on how you feel, and try to evoke either a “fight” or “flight” response.
Once you recognize in yourself either the anger that characterizes the fight response or the depression that goes along with the flight response, you can respond positively by following the steps above.
Studies show that remembering to be grateful for all the good things in life helps to keep stress in check. Consider keeping a gratitude journal to help maintain perspective and calm. Chances are, there’s plenty to celebrate!
When stress becomes burdensome or stubborn, peruse your journal and see if you can lighten your load by reminding yourself of cherished memories, current blessings, and the people who make life worth living.