This morning I posted the following status on the clinic's Facebook Page:
STRESS is literally a killer. In fact reading the word evoked a bit of a stress response in you. (sorry) What do you/can you do to help deal with stress?
Right away I got a lot of really great responses. So I want to write and respond to the responses (which will hopefully lead you to respond). First, let me explain what I meant by stress literally being a killer. Do you know the most consistent predictor of poor overall health? It's poverty. That isn't to say that the lack of cash is actually making people sick. It is the lifestyle that comes with poverty. In particular poverty is a stressful lifestyle from many aspects: safety, nutrition, exposure, psychological,etc. However, stress reaches beyond just those living in poverty. Every lifestyle and socioeconomic class carries with it stress loads that can negatively impact our lives. Some of us are more sensitive to stress than others. For example there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that pregnant mothers who are under a great deal of stress or in pain tend to have children who are more sensitized to stress. This is a HUGE deal because it affects generations and generations of the human family.
So what kinds of things have my wise friends recommended to beat stress? Here are some of the (literally) life saving suggestions:
This is a double-edged sword. For some people knowing that they need to exercise but not feeling like they have the time or ability to do so is a source of stress. But when you look at how the stress response works it becomes clear that we are designed to have a physical response to handle stress. When you are exposed to stress it triggers a part of your nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. This is an automatic reaction to any sort of threat, danger or excitement. It's also called the Fight-or-Flight response. Your physiological function shifts to favor movement like running from an angry bear and away from things like digestion, growth, etc. No matter what is causing the stress this is how our body responds. Our blood sugar rises and we become hyperaware. If we never get away from the stress these reactions burn out, organs fail and we die. Sad but true.
Movement like fighting or running resolves this stress response and helps us get back to our normal state. Since you have stress everyday, movement every day can be a huge help. Exercising when you feel the stress is even more effective.
Sleep lets us recharge. This is also a crucial time for detoxification, growth and healing. If you don't sleep then you don't ever repair the damage that stress does to your body. We are all designed to sleep at night and in the dark. Devices like smart phones, tablets, computers, TVs, etc. can keep us from getting the quality of sleep we need. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also ruin our sleep too. Sleep is important to protect as we can't function properly without it. It is important to sleep enough. This means not too much and not too little. For the majority of us enough is between 7-9 hours per day. Being well rested not only helps to deal with stress we go to sleep with, but it can help us handle new stress that comes when we wake.
You would be amazed at how often many of us are holding our breath throughout the day. When we do this we deprive our brains of oxygen. We can't make good decisions like this. We also deprive our muscles and organs of oxygen too and the results can be devastating.
Beyond gas exchange breathing also affects our mood too. Take a deep breath now. When you do that your body actually begins to counteract the stress reaction. Hormones, heart rate, and nervous system activity all respond instantly. Take another deep breath and this builds on the previous de-stressing effects.
I've only recently started adding meditation to my daily routine and it is great. At first I thought it was really weird and only for hippies. BUT now it is the few minutes during the day that I look forward to the most. You can meditate any time of the day. You don't have to chant or light a candle. You can just sit and focus on being in the moment. Check in with how you are feeling, breathe, and for a little while just set aside any thoughts or cares that may cross your mind. Trust me. Your brain will appreciate the break. It doesn't take more than a few minutes to feel the effects. I really like this quote from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an expert on mindfullness techniques: "There is a rest in wakefulness that can't be achieved in sleep." Medidation is not about going to sleep. It is about waking up, becoming in touch and fully experiencing the moment.
It helps with stress because we get to control our breathing and physiological state. We stop focusing on the things that make us feel unsafe or out of control. Often I've found that after meditation the things which seemed like a huge deal are really not that big afterall.
Even if you're like me and you love what you do taking some time off can be really beneficial. Getting away from all of the daily stressors that accumulate in your life can help you avoid feeling run down, tired or out of control.
Downsizing and simplifiying your life can add years to it. Examine the things that are extra that may be keeping you from having focus, freedom and happiness. Some of the extra stuff may be things that are good but not necessary. Try writing down the three most valuable things in your life. Then look at what you are doing with a typical day. How much are you doing that has nothing to do with those values? Are you giving appropriate time to each of these values throughout the day or is one dominating your time and attention. Becoming aware of imbalance in your priorities is a road to fixing them and reducing unnecessary stress in your life.
The purpose of music is to set the mood. Movies without music have trouble making their point. We listen to romantic music when we want to be romantic, fast music when it's time to exercise or hymns when we want to worship. Sometimes just the right song can help you destress quickly.
Surround Yourself With The Right People
Toxic relationships are a common stress source. We all know that there are people who give us energy and make us feel happy and then there are folks who suck the life out of us. We may call both of these people friends. Choose to spend time with people who lift you up and bring you joy. You have enough problems of your own, right? Do you really want somebody else's stressing you out as well?
A good network of people you can rely on is important. You may feel a lot of satisfaction when you can help these people in their needs too!
If you don't have the raw materials to make stress hormones, heal and support organ function you can't deal with stress. I already mentioned that mineral and vitamin deficiencies can affect your ability to sleep. Poor nutrition also affects your ability to do other stress managing activities such as exercise and concentration. Everybody should be taking a multivitamin or in my opinion you just aren't very serious about being healthy. You need healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and protein sources like lean meats. Avoid sugar, caffiene, refined carbohydrates, grains, processed foods and beverages.
OF COURSE THIS MAKES THE LIST! Some of the stress we face is structural. We have to deal with the physical demands of school, work, parenting and sometimes even just gravity. This structural stress leads to emotional stress. Sometimes emotional stress becomes physical stress as well when joints stop functioning or muscles become tight. Regular bodywork and chiropractic adjustments are great ways to fix these stress problems. I always feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders after receiving a good adjustment.
This isn't a complete list. There are many other techniques and tricks for keeping your stress under control. What do you do?