In order to understand the physiological effects that stress has on the body, it's important to note that all animals, including humans, produce extra stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, when faced with a threat.
The problem in the modern world is that many folks are facing perceived threats on a daily basis. A faltering economy, complicated foreign affairs, and domestic safety concerns are only a few of the hot buttons that are causing many people to believe that stress is quickly becoming a worldwide epidemic.
We Can Work It Out
In an environment of constant flux, here are a few tips for beating stress and burnout, as well as handling anxiety that comes with the territory.
• Breathe deeply. Many people tend to involuntarily tense their muscles and hold their breath when faced with a stressful situation. It’s crucial to remember to breathe deeply from the abdomen, as this increases oxygen to all parts of the body, especially the brain. Flooding the brain with oxygen helps to regulate your body’s physiological response system and will help to control negative thoughts or reactions.
• Exercise. Exercise floods your body with endorphins (the brain's neurotransmitters that cause euphoric feelings), helps you sleep better, and gives you a greater sense of self-confidence. Plus, practicing a sport is a meditative experience. Anyone who’s fully engaged in the sport at hand won’t have time to think about his or her nagging boss at the same time!
• Laugh (or cry). Both laughing and crying can be therapeutic. In fact, a hearty laugh or good cry releases stored tension. A deep sob opens up your diaphragm and chest area. This releases muscle tension around your heart, allowing it to work more efficiently to deliver oh-so-important oxygen throughout the body.
• Practice relaxation response. The goal to avoiding stressful feelings is to achieve a mental stillness amidst all the commotion. This can be achieved by repeating a sound or word over and over again. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, say “om,” or any meaningful word or phrase. This will help to keep you focused on the present moment.
• Set realistic goals and don’t procrastinate. Whether you’re a student working on a term paper or an executive preparing a proposal, organization is paramount. Write out specific daily or weekly goals that will help you accomplish your task. For instance, if you are writing a research paper, choose your topic and locate the needed information on day one. Prepare bibliography and note cards on day two. On day three, work on the outline, and so on. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can do everything in one day, especially if it’s the last day before the paper/proposal/project is due.
These suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to battling stress. If you're still feeling stressed, pursue a hobby in your spare time or get outdoors more often. Turn off your cell phone from time to time. Try massage or aromatherapy. Eat healthfully. Adults, enjoy sex with your sweetheart. Lastly, remember to reflect on your personal values. This will keep you focused and motivated to be the best (and calmest) you can be!