Stress and Stress Relief
Today's fast-paced lifestyle can leave many of us feeling pretty stressed out sometimes. Between work, managing a home, and taking care of a family, we often have little time left over to take care of our own basic needs. Sometimes we may be so busy that we fail to notice that we are actually suffering physically and mentally as a result of stress. It is important to learn to identify stress and how to deal with it.
What is Stress?
Though not always enjoyable, stress is actually a necessary part of our daily lives. Stress is defined as anything that stimulates you to act, think, or react. Sometimes this stress may be as simple as your stomach growling at you to get some lunch; other times it may be as extreme as a threat that forces you to escape from your home or office. Whatever the source of your stress, stress is something that is necessary in order to force us to accomplish certain tasks. Without stress, our bodies wouldn't react at all, even in times of extreme danger.
Good Stress vs Bad Stress
In order to manage your stress appropriately, it is necessary to understand the difference between good stress and bad stress.
- Good Stress: Good stress helps us to go about our daily tasks and achieve those hard-to-reach goals. This type of stress, called eustress, helps us to learn new things, adapt to change, and engage in creative thinking. Everyone experiences good stress on a daily basis. Another form of stress that is also good is the stress that enables us to survive in times of distress. This stress makes us aware of danger and enables us to escape when we need to.
- Bad Stress: Bad forms of stress do not help us to achieve goals or tasks, but instead actually inhibit our ability to function on a daily basis. Bad stress occurs when too much stress begins to build up around us. Once the body feels that there is too much stress, it will begin to break down, causing symptoms like perspiration, anxiety, headaches, and rapid breathing. This kind of stress can take a huge toll on your physical and mental wellbeing.
Sources of Stress
All sorts of things can cause the stress levels in your life to rise. From little things, like your phone ringing off the hook, to major life changes, such as a death in your family, sources of stress are everywhere. Watch out for these main sources of stress:
- Internal Factors: When stress is created by negative thoughts, worries, or feelings that come from inside you, it is described as being caused by internal factors. Low self-esteem, constant and unsubstantiated worrying, and fear of change can all be sources of major stress.
- Environmental Factors: All of those things that are going on around you can be contributors to your stress level. Whether it be a messy office, a fight with your boss, or your living conditions at home, these factors are common causes of stress.
- Fatigue and Overwork: We have all been overworked and overtired at some point in our lives. When we are persistently tired, undernourished, or unhealthy, stress can really begin to add up.
If you can learn to reduce the amount of bad stress in your life, you will be able to enjoy life much more. It will increase your energy, alleviate depression, and bring back your zest for life. Here are some great stress management techniques that you can do at home to benefit your health and wellness and provide you with that much needed stress relief. Though they can take some practice to perfect, once you learn how to perform these techniques, the benefits can be endless.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that encourages you to be aware of your surroundings. Instead of getting caught up in the one thing that is causing you stress, mindfulness teaches you how to look at the whole picture and enjoy life for all its simple pleasures. In mindfulness meditation, you take on the role of observer. Be aware of all that is around you sights, smells, and sounds but don't focus on any one thing. Instead, focus on embracing the environment as it is at that very moment. Mindfulness meditation is an excellent technique that allows you to distract yourself from stressful situations, promoting relaxation and health.
Exercise is a tried and tested technique for stress relief. Exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise, helps to moderate your emotions. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are special chemicals that help to numb your pain and boost your mood. It also leaves you feeling ready for a great night's sleep! Try exercising 3 times a week for 30 minutes a day, in order to control your stress.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Stress can take its toll on the body as well as the mind. Stress causes our muscles to tighten up and become stiff. Progressive muscle relaxation is designed to release this muscle tension and relax the entire body. It also helps to lower your pulse rate, reduce blood pressure, and minimize perspiration. Lie down on the floor, on your bed, or another comfortable place and breathe in deeply. Begin to constrict the muscles in your body one at a time, starting with your feet. Hold each muscle tight for a few seconds, and then relax. Work your way up to your head. By the time you get there your whole body (and your mind) will be relaxed.
Coping with stress can be very difficult at times. Deep breathing, formally known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a very popular stress reduction technique. It's also really easy to do and can be done in any quiet spot. Begin by sitting comfortably in a secluded area. Take in a deep breath through your nose, counting from 1 to 4 as you breathe in. Exhale through your mouth as your count down from 4 to 1. Repeat this breathing 20 or 30 times. Deep breathing is particularly effective at reducing stress because it increases oxygen levels in the body, which has a natural, calming effect.
We have all done visualization at some point in our lives usually in the middle of winter when we imagine we are actually lounging on a warm, sandy beach. Visualization allows us to remove ourselves from reality for a short period of time, providing us with rest and relaxation. To practice visualization, all you need to do is sit or lie down in a quiet spot. Get comfortable and then close your eyes. Visualize a scene or place that is filled with happiness and serenity - it could be a placid lake or it might be your childhood home. Focus on this image and try to imagine that you are actually there. Keep focusing until you can actually feel, see, and hear all the elements of that scene. Visualization eliminates stress by reducing anxiety and calming the entire body.
Just having someone to talk to can be a great buffer against getting too stressed out. But what if the people around you are one of your sources of stress? Consider a few sessions with a trained professional. Meeting with any type of counselor or therapist can substantially reduce feelings of stress - often after only one visit. And many therapists are trained in teaching clients relaxation techniques as well as social skills, priority setting and stress management.
Massage for Relaxation
Often assumed to just relieve physical discomfort, massage therapy is great way to relax your mind as well. Stress can induce a number of physical discomforts including tense muscles and knots in the shoulders and neck. Through different massage techniques, a therapist is able to loosen up those sore muscles thereby helping to relieve body pain. However, with this newly relaxed body, your mood also tends to improve and many people report feeling calmer after a massage. The benefits of massage on your physical and mental health are so great that many insurance programs nowadays will cover the cost of a massage performed by a registered massage therapist.