5 Ways to Help Your Body Deal with Stress

Last week we talked about positive ways you can deal with stressful situations.  Today let’s get into how we can help our bodies respond more effectively to stress.  Remember, our bodies respond with the “Fight or Flight” response to all stressors, whether they are real or imagined, physical or psychological.  So let’s get to it!

1. SLEEP

Be sure to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night.  We all can “get by” on less, but we don’t function as well.  After two consecutive nights of less than 7 hours of sleep, we start to experience some of the effects of sleep deprivation including (but certainly not limited to) impaired vision, low energy, poor judgement, and a shorter temper to name a few.  And get this!  When we sleep less, we tend to eat more, thinking that food will help with our low energy.  So make an effort to get more sleep.  It’s the ultimate “me time”!

Not sure exactly how much sleep you really need?  Try setting an alarm to wake you 8 hours after you go to bed.  If you wake rested and ready for the day before the alarm goes off, then you’ve had enough sleep.

Do you have trouble getting to sleep at night?  Try slowing things down a little earlier in the evening, drink some herbal tea (no caffeine) or do a little stretching. If you have a “monkey mind” that won’t let you relax, write down what is on your mind.  Physically transferring those thoughts from your brain to the paper can help tremendously.  And don’t forget to turn off those electronic devices at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime.  Studies show that exposure to these backlit screens can keep our brains stimulated and “awake” for up to 2-3 hours after exposure.

2. Love and Laughter

Get those endorphins flowing, baby!  Two great ways to do that are with laughter and sex.  Both release endorphins that make us feel good, release tension and get our minds off of other stressors for the time being.  So surround yourself with people who make you happy, laugh and feel good.  Watch a comedy you enjoy or go to a live comedy show.  And, if you have a willing partner who wants to help you release your tension and stress (or not), you can have a little fun between the sheets!

3. Breath/Meditation

Breathing exercises and meditation practice both train us be become more present.  They help us slow down our minds, connect with the present moment, and become more mindful and aware.  When we are more connected, we make more conscious decisions and respond more effectively to stressful situations versus unconsciously reacting from a place of defensiveness.

Here’s an easy breathing exercise to get started with.  First, make sure you are sitting comfortably with both feet flat on the floor and your hands relaxed in your lap.  Take a slow, deep breathe in through your nose, hold the top of the breath for a moment or two, then slowly release a controlled exhale out through your mouth.  Pause again at the bottom of the breath and then repeat again with the inhale.  Try doing this about 10 times and see how you feel.  If you lose count, just start back over at one.  When you finish, you may notice that your heart rate and blood pressure have decreased, your awareness and mental acuity have increased.  Hopefully you will also experience a feeling of relaxation and peace.  Ahhhhh…..  

If you are intimidated by the thought of meditation, have no fear.  There are several great meditation apps out there that provide guided meditations for everyone from beginners to advanced meditators.  Some of them include Omvana, Insight Timer, and Gaiam Meditation.  Those are just a few that I have used. But there are a whole lot more out there.  FYI: Omvana has many more in-app purchases than the other two mentioned.

4. Move it!

Exercise is key to getting your stress hormones back in check.  As I mentioned earlier, our bodies respond with the “Fight or Flight” response regardless of what type of stressor we are experiencing.  If you are being chased by a bear, your “Fight or Flight” response kicks in.  The stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and oxytocin) are released into the blood stream causing heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure to increase. Gastrointestinal function slows down and the senses are heightened.  Then blood sugar and clotting factors are released into the bloodstream.  If being chased by a bear, we would run!  The physical action of running would help us to metabolize those stress hormones and bring their levels back down to their pre-stressor levels.  However, when our stressors are more psychological and have more to do with life’s demands not being in line with the resources we have to meet those demands (like time and money), we can’t physically run away from our problems (at least not usually with much success).  But we can trick our bodies into thinking that we are with regular physical activity.  Exercise simulates running from the bear, thus bringing those stress hormone levels back down to baseline.

5. What you eat makes a difference.

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates.  What we eat has a tremendous impact on our health, as well as our ability to effectively combat stress.  Focus on eating foods that nourish, and avoid foods that deplete you.  Since your blood sugar is already elevated during the stress response, don’t try to manage it by running to sugary comfort foods.  This will only increase your blood sugar that much more.  Besides, that dessert or sweet treat may make you feel better while you’re eating it, but once that last forkful or spoonful is gone, your problems are still there.  Instead, try eating more whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.  These foods are all high in fiber, low in fat and loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that our bodies need to perform optimally.

Try to avoid caffeine.  Your nervous system is already stimulated.  Caffeine will only exacerbate the problem.  If chocolate is your go-to stress food, you’re in for a double whammy (sugar and caffeine).  Sorry.

So what should you eat?  Here are a few healthy snack ideas.  How about fresh veggies or whole grain crackers with hummus or yogurt with fresh berries? Celery or apples with a handful of nuts or 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter is another good choice that has a balance of nutrients to make you feel satisfied without exacerbating the stress response.

I hope these few tips are helpful to you.  If you have anything to add, please share and leave a comment below.

 

5 Positive Ways to Respond to Stress

stress-or-relaxedEmotional and psychological stress are virtually unavoidable in today’s fast-paced, on-demand culture. Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with negative news headlines.  Our cities are becoming more crowded.  Rush hour traffic is now just about every hour.  We live in an instant gratification society and the demands to keep up are relentless.  Ugh!

That doesn’t mean it has to control us though.  Yes, a stressor that is not dealt with or keeps recurring is going to eventually lead to physical and psychological negative effects.  And we are going to still be bombarded with demands, probably even more so as time goes on.

But there’s hope.  There is always hope.  The good news is that YOU have a lot of control over your level of stress and how it affects you.  When you accept responsibility for your feelings, thoughts and emotions, you gain more control over them.  That is so empowering!  We need to consider our perceptions of and responses to stressful situations, along with giving our bodies what they need to deal with these stressors the best way it can. Today’s tips are for helping you with your perceptions and responses to stress triggers.  Next time, we’ll get into how you can give your body what it needs in order to deal with these stressors the best that it can.  So here we go!  

5 Positive ways to respond to stress:

  1. PERCEPTION: This is a perfect example of the Optimist vs. the Pessimist.  Ask yourself, “Is this event a crisis or an opportunity?”   How you view an event is going to have a tremendous impact on how your body responds.  You can take the negative approach, which will undoubtedly lead to a significant stress response, or take the high road.  Try to see the opportunities that this event may afford you.  Seeing something from a more positive perspective and believing in your ability to face the challenge will increase your self confidence, empower you, and get you fired up to make things happen.  On the other hand, if you respond to the event with a fatalistic attitude, chances are you are going to leave yourself feeling anxious, incapable, inadequate, stressed and even depressed.  It’s your choice.  How will you perceive it?
  2. HOPE FOR THE BEST, PREPARE FOR THE WORST: So many of the stressful events that we experience are actually quite preventable with just a little forethought and planning.  So plan ahead.  Consider all of the possible or likely outcomes of a situation and think about how you can prepare for them and take steps to achieve that preparedness when necessary.  That way, if the worst does come to be, you will at least have an idea of what you can do and you won’t feel as blindsided.  When something comes at us seemingly out of nowhere, it often triggers that fight or flight response.  One of the many actions the body takes when in that “fight or flight” mode is decreasing our ability to think rationally.  We can think much more clearly before hand, when we can prepare, than we can in the moment of that stressful event.
  3. WE CAN’T CHANGE OTHERS, BUT WE CAN CHANGE HOW WE REACT TO THEM.  We all have those people in our lives.  You know the ones.  They grate on our nerves, make our lives more challenging and often aren’t the most positive folks around.  Unfortunately, as much as we may want to help them make changes to be easier to be around, it just doesn’t work that way.  We can’t change those people.  The only changes in their behavior are going to have to come from them.  But what we can take ownership of is how we respond to that person.  Try to keep those negative, energy suckers at a distance whenever possible.  When you do have to interact with them, try to be as positive as possible and do your best to not let them get you down.  You don’t have to get sucked into an argument or believe the negative things they say.  Just smile and change the subject or walk away.  When we let them get to us, they win and we will lose every time.  That is because YOU are the only one who walks away hurt and more frustrated and stressed out.  Don’t do that to yourself!  You deserve so much better.  Stay positive, don’t get sucked in and walk away if/when necessary.
  4. CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN, ACCEPT WHAT YOU CAN’T.  Ask yourself, “Is this stressful situation something I can change?  What can I do to improve the situation?”  If the answer is “Yes” then great!  Get out there and do what you need to do to make the situation less stressful.  If you realize after much thought that the situation is completely out of your hands (that alone can be a pretty significant cause of stress), then nothing you do can change the situation.  So, what do we do when we can’t change the situation?   It all leads back to the idea of perception.  We accept it as our reality and respond to it in a more positive manner, then move on.
  5. HOLD ON TO THE LESSON, NOT THE EXPERIENCE.  Have you ever had an experience that left you wishing for a time machine so that you could just go back and do it over?  I’m pretty sure we all have.  Now, have you ever been so disappointed in yourself and ashamed that you just keep replaying that awful scene in your head, over and over again?  Do me a favor, STOP IT!  Reliving that horrible experience does nothing positive for you. It only reinforces those feelings of embarrassment, inadequacy and shame.  Of course you should look back on it, but only long enough to do a quick post-mortem.  Evaluate the situation and its result.  Ask yourself what you could do next time to reach your desired outcome.  In other words, learn from your mistakes.  Don’t use them to punish yourself.  Focus on reinforcing the lesson, not the experience.

I hope you find these tips to be helpful.  Please don’t forget to comment below and let me know what you think.  Remember, this is a two-parter, so keep your eyes open for the next post which will focus on the physical actions we can take to help our bodies to be better equipped to handle all of those daily stressors.