Excessive chronic or acute stress can cause or worsen anxiety disorders as well as a host of other mental and physical health conditions. Excessive stress can shorten a lifespan as it also reduces the enjoyment of that life. Clearly, stress is an enemy to health and happiness.
Reducing the Effects of Stress
There are two primal ways to reduce the effects of stress on your life:
- Reduce your exposure to events, situations, people or places that cause you to feel stress
- Improve your ability to manage stress, so that although you experience the same stressors – you don't feel as stressed.
Obviously, eliminating sources of stress from your life can go a long way to improving your health and happiness, and for some people this solves the problem. Others though, find that they cannot realistically reduce their stress load (career – kids – rush hour traffic – ailing parents etc.) and so need to learn how to minimize the consequences of daily stressful events.
Here are a number of techniques for managing the stress in life:
Stress Management Tips
- Relaxation exercises – Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, Tai Chi – there are many available mind-body exercises that can lead to an increased sense of peace and a better ability to handle daily stressors. These exercises can also counter the physiological consequences of stress through improved blood flow, a slowed heart and respiration rate and reduced blood pressure.
- Take a minute to stretch – Stress causes your muscles to tense up; taking a couple of minutes to breathe deeply and do stretching exercises can help your body – and mind - to relax.
- Time management – Sometimes better planning can lead to a more relaxed progression through the day. Instead of racing around to get the kids to school on time, concentrate on leaving the house 20 minutes earlier and feel a bit calmer on your morning commute.
- Exercise – Exercise clears your mind and causes the release of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, all as it improves your health and well being. Few things work as well as a session of vigorous exercise to reduce stress's negative impact. It's an easy solution, it’s something all of us should be doing anyway, and in most cases, it's free.
- Get enough sleep – Stress can lead to sleep difficulties and a lack of sleep can exacerbate the effects of stress. Sleep deprivation leaves us cognitively impaired and irritable and ill equipped to handle the normal frustrations of life. It can be tough to slip away to sleep when your mind is spinning, so get into a bedtime routine that eases you gently to dreamland. Spinning your wheels all evening before going to bed almost guarantees a difficult night.
- Reduce your use of stimulants (caffeine) and alcohol – Stimulants such as the caffeine found in coffee (or even some cold medications) primes your body to feel stress and anxiety, and so sometimes cutting a few cups of coffee per day can reduce the impact of stressful life events. Although many people turn to alcohol as a way to manage stress, alcohol actually reduces sleep quality, and when wearing off it increases your susceptibility to stress – not mention the effects of hangovers!
- Take a vacation – The most effective workers make time for themselves and their families, regardless of what’s going on at work. Everyone needs time away to recharge the batteries; creativity and emotional stability depend on it. Schedule your vacation time long in advance; plan ahead for your time away and make sure you take a full break from work while away.
- Good nutrition – A hectic schedule can too easily lead to a coffee and donut diet, but the foods we eat definitely affect the way we feel, and eating junk can lead to energy and emotional fluctuations. To keep yourself balanced, energized and productive, eat balanced meals of whole grain foods and lean proteins and take it easy on the caffeine and sugar.
- Talk to a counselor or therapist – If you can’t seem to get a handle on the stress in your life, getting some expert advice and guidance may help. An impartial therapist can take an unbiased look at your life and help you to realize change for the better.
Human beings don’t perform well under chronic stress, the physical body breaks down and our mental beings suffer unpleasantly. Chronic stress exposure increases susceptibility to mental illness as it increases the risks of heart disease and other medical conditions. Clearly, living under stress is not the secret to healthy longevity.
Take a look at your life and lifestyle and make any changes you can to reduce your stress load, and combine stress minimization with stress management techniques, like those listed above, to help you to deal with the stress you must face - while still maintaining your health and happiness.
Page last updated Sep 16, 2010