Date: August 21, 2020
Five Easy Methods to Manage Stress
In this blog I present five easy methods to manage your stress.
Stress is modern-day enemy
We know stress is the modern-day enemy, despite the reality that stress often empowers us to achieve our goals. Long-term (chronic) stress, however, can cause physical, as well as psychological difficulties and illnesses.
- Physical difficulties of stress may include chronic pain, headaches & migraines, sleep disturbances, heart attacks, skin problems, Irritable bowel syndrome and breathing problems.
- Psychological difficulties of stress may include anxiety, uncontrolled anger, burnout, low energy level, concentration difﬁculties, and symptoms of depression.
So much illness in the world is because of the level of stress we deal with every day.
How does long-term stress cause illness?
Stress related biological mechanism is something fascinating. Stress starts from your senses after interpreting the environment and perceiving we are in danger or under a real or imaginary threat (very often imaginary threat in our thoughts). Then the brain releases stress hormone (cortisol) and inflammatory agents that put our body into protection mode to protect us from the outside threat.
The body chemicals do not know whether there is a real threat or not. They just respond and keep on responding to the signals as long as the perceived threat lasts.
The protective mechanism prepares yourself for the threat in several ways:
- Your body closes the blood vessels in the gut and pushes the blood into arms and legs to fight the real or imaginary threat. You are instantly ready to “fight or flight”.
- Increases heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing preparing you to fight back or run away
- Breaks down the energy in the immune system and suspends fighting infection. Immune system needs so much energy to fight infection, so, when you are in stress the immune system is weak and you subjugate to diseases.
- Suppresses reproduction system and growth process. Chronic stress can affect testosterone production, resulting in a decline in sex drive or libido, and
- Squeezes the blood vessels in the forebrain and flows the blood to hind brain to activate instant emotional response disabling the conscious and creative functions. You become impulsive, less intelligent, negative, and depressive.
Remarkably, stress reactions are not designed to last forever. When the threat disappears, the body goes back to normal functioning. Our body is naturally designed to regulate stress and reduce their intensity.
Feelings are signals that meant to provide information. If the signal is always “on” (and long-term) no longer provides that useful information.
When stress reactions are intense, we can take certain deliberate actions to regulate.
Five simple methods of Managing Stress
- Change your posture. Just move, change the posture, sit straight, put your head up and gently push your chest forward. Such activity alone disrupts the intensive flow of emotions and send signals to the brain that cortisol signals may no longer necessary. Our forefathers perhaps built religious buildings with high roof and ceilings with a profound meaning. Sooner you enter the building you are no longer dropping your head and showing a surrender. You enjoy instant relief and calmness.
- Put a smile on your face. A fake smile is absolutely okay, which confuses and disrupts the process of intense cortisol production and circulation. You can “fake it until you make it”. I have seen many clients who come with full of emotions and being depressive, dropping their heads, and sitting at the edge of their seats. Soon after I ask them to change their posture and put a smile on their face, they instantly become less intense and often become embarrassed about their past feelings.
- Take a deep breathe. We also call it diaphragmatic breathing. This method of breathing is deliberate. The exhalation should be much longer than inhalation which helps to activate our parasympathetic nervous system to make our body relaxed. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces harmful effects of your cortisol, helps to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Make a habit of 10 deep breaths at least twice a day just before going to sleep and just after getting up early in the morning.
- Involve Your Senses. Intentionally engage your five senses – hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, and sightings. These are incredibly powerful tools in providing instant relief in a hectic world. Inhale calming scents, fresh air, your child’s blanket etc slowly and deeply; listen to music, sing a song, dance to a tune, play with your pet, go for a walk, do gardening, and cooking or painting. Using your body, limbs and senses in creative ways distract your mind and help you enter into a calmer state of being.
- Be mindful of and label your emotions. Be mindful of, neutrally feel, and notice emotions and then label them using words. Focus your attention to the most intense emotion you are experiencing at the time, label the emotion (e.g. anxiety, happiness, sadness, anger, guilt, hate, frustration, boredom etc) as best you can. This is a process of non-judgementally observing of your thoughts, emotions and sensations as they come and go. Consciously thinking about emotions activates the “on-button” for rational thinking and effective emotional regulation which can help taking control of your thoughts and feelings.
How long you should practice?
Regular practice affects the brain and make positive changes in our lives. Practicing like anything else, helps to change the structure of the brain. The brain learns new habits by restructuring and restrengthening neurons. The more you train them, the stronger they become (“neurons that ﬁre together, wire together”). If we rarely use certain neurons, their connections will become weaker, disintegrate, and the neurons themselves will deteriorate. Ultimately, these areas in the brain will become smaller. Depressed people have smaller areas responsible for positive emotions and larger areas responsible for negative emotions.
How long should we practice making relaxation a habit and beneficial? It has been speculated in psychological literature (psycho-cybernetics) that our brain does not accept new data for a change unless it is repeated for sometimes, at least each day for more than 21 days.
Please note once the long-term stress becomes chronic and develops into chronic psychological conditions like depression then professional assistance is necessary.