Everyone experiences stress in their life.
No one gets a hall pass, and honestly, we humans need some stress to keep us safe and motivated. And, not all stress is bad; think weddings, births, birthdays, and graduations.
What may be most important about stress is learning how to recognize it and finding the tools to help you manage it. Learning to manage stress is essential to living a healthy, balanced life. Caution here: please don’t compare your stress to those around you! Why? Because it is like trying to compare two snowflakes. They may both be wet and fall from the sky, but the patterns and shapes will be vastly different. So too, with stress. We are each born with a unique personality and have different beliefs and conditioning that will affect how we perceive and manage stress in our lives.
What Is Stress?
At its most basic level, stress is anything that puts a demand on our system causing it to change or adapt. Modern life requires us to adapt most of the time. We are inundated with information, have packed schedules, work long hours, communicate in short bursts, and all with no foreseeable endpoint. We are driven to sustain this level of intensity until we can’t anymore, simply because our systems can’t keep up.
At some point in trying to keep this pace, our system senses that it is too much and starts sending subtle warning signs to get our attention. It may be varying degrees of one of these common effects of stress: headaches, poor sleep, frequent illness or weakened immune system, fatigue, high blood pressure, tight chest, shallow breathing, focus issues, impatience, being triggered, you get the idea. If we fail to pick up on these warnings, the frequency and intensity increase, until it gets our attention; usually in the form of illness or injury. You can prevent this by checking in with your mind, body, and spirit regularly. Learn what your stressors are and how they affect your body. Are they internal or external? Things you can control or nothing you can do?
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the reaction to stress that is out of proportion; it involves fear and perceived threat. Replaying the past or worrying about the future takes over. It is like the survival switch gets stuck in the on position. Over time, the system loses its ability to judge any situation and has only one response, overwhelm. An example would be having the same response to a near miss while driving as when you forgot where you put your glasses. Another example to contrast the difference between stress and anxiety: where stress will grab an umbrella because the forecast indicates there is a chance of rain, anxiety walks around with the umbrella up all the time just to be safe.
Anxiety, itself, is not a medical condition, but rather an emotion. It becomes problematic and requires medical attention when the activities of normal daily life become unmanageable or overwhelming. If you are experiencing this, please contact a medical professional for help.
Stress is the underlying cause of 80-90% of medical conditions in the United States, and more than 40 million are diagnosed with anxiety. What can we do? For many, it is a matter of intention, healthy habits, and using tools that bring aid in the prevention and management of everyday stress.
Tools and Habits
Remember that different tools and strategies will work for different people, and what works one day may change depending on the nature of the stress and your environment. I liken it to building a toolbox. You wouldn’t put just one tool in the toolbox and expect it to work in every situation. So too, with your De-Stress Toolbox. Try many, refine your favorites, and be on the lookout for new options.
Where to Start:
- Check-in with your system and ask yourself how you are feeling.
- Breath is the basis of all life. Practice good breathing on the drive home or when you are frustrated. Inhale and exhale fully without forcing the air in or out. This is quick and easy, and you can do it anywhere, anytime.
- Reduce caffeine and the intake of stimulants as they prop you up and disconnect you from how you are feeling, also true for depressants; think drugs or alcohol.
- Diet. Eat real food and eat to fuel your body, not to soothe your emotions.
- Exercise. We all need to move. You don’t have to run for hours or take a 60-minute class for it to count. Simply get up and move as often as you can.
- Meditate and learn practices that have a mind-body component, such as Yoga, Reiki, or Tai Chi, etc.
- Fresh air and nature are grounding and balancing, even if just for a few minutes. Moving in the fresh air is even better!
- Get enough quality sleep. The body struggles to heal and restore without it.
- Develop a routine. Predictability in some areas of life counterbalances the areas and times that are unpredictable.
- Declutter. This is for both your physical life, as in your closets, desk, etc. and for your emotional and spiritual closets as well. Make it a regular practice to clear out what is no longer serving you. Decluttering your physical space benefits your internal closets, as well.
- Regularly express gratitude for any or all of the blessings in your life.
Our current state of affairs has resulted in more people experiencing stress or anxiety, many for the first time.
If this is you and life feels beyond your control, take one baby step today that helps you feel calmer and at ease. And if you are feeling overwhelmed and are struggling, please reach out for help.
When adversity strikes, that’s when you have to be the most calm. Take a step back, stay strong, grounded, and press on.– LL Cool J
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