The holidays tend to be very stressful for many of us. We headed into the holiday season with stress from the Borderline shooting, the ravaging fires and the pre-Christmas stock price plunge and a partial government shut down. This was in addition to all of our personal stress.
How you handle stress makes a big difference in how you feel and your quality of life. It can make a huge impact on how to get off to a good start for 2019. It might even help your blood pressure, blood sugar level, and your health in general. Use these calming strategies to stop stress ASAP.
Reboot Your Breath
Feeling less stressed is as close as your next breath. Focusing on your breath curbs your body’s “fight or flight” reaction to pressure or fear, and it pulls your attention away from negative thoughts. Sit comfortably in a quiet place. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your chest and lower belly rise and your abdomen expand. Breathe out just as slowly, repeating a word or phrase that helps you relax. To reap the full benefit, repeat for at least 10 minutes.
Spending time outdoors, even close to home, is linked to better well-being. You’re in a natural setting, and you’re usually doing something active, like walking or hiking. Even a few minutes can make a difference in how you feel. This is especially true when it is sunny outdoors and if you can get to a “natural setting” in a quiet place. This can be combined with controlled breathing while focusing on pleasant thoughts.
Smile Like You Mean It
Don’t roll your eyes the next time someone advises you to “grin and bear it.” In times of tension, keeping a smile on your face – especially a genuine smile that’s formed by the muscles around your eyes as well as your mouth – reduces your body’s stress responses, even if you don’t feel happy. Smiling also helps lower heart rates faster once your stressful situation ends.
Sniff Some Lavender
Certain scents like lavender may soothe. In one study, nurses who pinned small vials of lavender oil to their clothes felt their stress ease, while nurses who didn’t felt more stressed. Lavender may intensify the effect of some painkillers and anti-anxiety medications, so if you’re taking either, use with caution or check with your doctor before use.
Break Out the Gum
Next time you’re at the end of your rope, unwrap a stick of gum. According to studies, chewing gum lowers anxiety and eases stress. Some researchers think the rhythmic act of chewing may improve blood flow to your brain, while others believe the smell and taste help you relax. This does not work for everyone, but give it a try.
Heading into a stressful situation? Music can help you calm down. In one study, people had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol when they listened to a recording of Latin choral music before doing something stressful (like doing math out loud or giving a speech) than when they listened to a recording of rippling water. (Wondering what that choral piece was, music fans? Try Miserere by Gregorio Allegri.) Although not backed up by a specific study, preselect some music you enjoy that brings back pleasant memories to keep readily available in your play list.
Be Kind to Yourself
We all have a constant stream of thoughts running through our heads, and sometimes what we tell ourselves isn’t so nice. Staying positive and using compassionate self-talk will help you calm down and get a better grip on the situation. Talk to yourself in the same gentle, encouraging way you’d help a friend in need. “Everything will be OK,” for instance, or “I’ll figure out how to handle this.” Practice techniques while calm to control your focus, so that you can readily employ this approach at the earliest onset of a stressful situation.
Write Your Stress Away
Jotting down your thoughts can be a great emotional outlet. Once they’re on paper, you can start working out a plan to resolve them. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer pen and notebook, a phone app, or a file on your laptop. The important thing is that you’re honest about your feelings. Practice deciphering what is “”known” from the “unknown”. Focus on the known; stress is always increased when focusing on the unknown. Write down what part of a complex situation is precipitating feelings of stress that you can control. Frustration results from focusing on that which you cannot control. Most of us do not control that which is controllable to the greatest extent possible because we are too distracted by all that we cannot control. Writing down thoughts can help to clarify and relieve stress.
Tell a Friend
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek out the company of a trusted friend or loved one. Sharing with a friend who’s also dealing or has recently dealt with stressful issues may make it easier to open up. Sharing concerns may help both of you. After honestly acknowledging the situation, focus on workable solutions rather than on being a “victim”.
When you work up a sweat, you improve your mood, clear your head, and take a break from whatever is stressing you out. Whether you like a long walk or an intense workout, you’ll feel uplifted afterward.
A commitment to regular workouts at Elite Fitness Plus is an excellent approach to help cope with stress in our daily routines.
In summary, emotional stress does not result from any given situation but from our focused response precipitated by a stress-provoking situation. The healthiest approach to stress is to learn effective ways in minimizing the occurrence of stress combined with a strategic approach in promptly reducing stress should it occur.
Wishing everyone a healthy, happy, prosperous 2019 filled with more joy and less stress.
Paul R. Block, MD, FACP, FCCP