Stress management is becoming an increasingly important skill in modern society. It is said by many mental healthcare professionals that stress in society is at an all time high. I believe this is because we are raised in a system where there is constant pressure on us to “get to the next stage” in life. We start as early as daycare, to kindergarten to middle school through college and university. Then come the job and the career. All have they’re positive aspects but all can promote stress if you let them.
Stress is a physiological and psychological response to a perceived change in our environment. It may have a positive or negative effect on us. It is our reaction to these stressors that determine their impact. Many of our daily activities cause one form of stress or another. Positive stress, something that promotes or presents an opportunity for personal growth, is termed eustress. For example, getting married, starting a new job, or even meeting new people can cause nervousness or excitement. This is not to be mistaken with distress. Distress is the real negative stress and can have a number of harmful effects on our body.
Adaptation is to attempt to cope with distress. While adjusting to new stressors it is not uncommon to feel strain and anxiety. This strain is wear and tear on our minds and bodies. There are many sources of stress in everyday life. Driving in heavy traffic, getting into an accident, moving to a new home, a picky boss, emotional conflicts at work or school, and personal financial problems to name a few. It is important that we learn healthy coping mechanisms rather than try and escape our reality.Progressive Relaxation is a stress-reduction technique for reducing muscular tension using exercises designed to promote relaxation. In essence, the technique is practiced as follows. While sitting quietly or lying down, contract and then relax various muscle groups one at a time. Start with your feet and move up the body one muscle group at a time. Hold each muscle contraction for at least 10 seconds. Proponents of this method argue that relaxing the muscles in the manner will also relax the mind and therefore relieve stress. The theory behind this is that an anxious (stressed) mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.
Breathing Exercises This is my personal favorite and is being promoted by psychologists and psychiatrist everywhere! This can work better than any pharmaceuticals in many cases.
- Assume a comfortable position, sitting or lying down, with the eyes closed.
- Begin inhaling slowly. Try and breath into your stomach and let it fill rather than puff out your chest
- Exhale as slowly as possible. Try and do this at the slowest pace that you’re still comfortable with
- You can combine this with progressive relaxation occasionally as well!
First pick a word or sound or image. This is called your mantra. It will be repeated during the meditation. The idea is that this thing should become your symbol of complete relaxation. Choose a mantra that has little emotional significance for you.To begin meditation, find a quiet area and sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Take several deep breathes similar to those mentioned above. Let your body go limp.Concentrate on your mantra. This means that you should try not to think about anything else. Repeat your mantra over and over in your mind and relax.After 15-20 minutes of concentration, open your eyes and begin to move your thoughts back to your everyday life. End each session by making a fist with both hands and saying to yourself that you are alert and refreshed.
Visualization Sometimes called mental imagery, visualization uses mental pictures to reduce stress. The idea is to create an appealing mental image (such as a sunny beach or quiet mountainside) that promotes relaxation. This is similar to meditation except that instead of a mantra, you substitute a relaxing scene. This requires practice!
It is important to remember that stress is hard wired into our genetics for a reason. The fight or flight response is a key component to the evolution of mankind. Our respiratory rate increases. Blood is shunted away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, which require extra energy and fuel for running and fighting. Our pupils dilate. Our awareness intensifies. Our sight sharpens. Our impulses quicken. Our perception of pain diminishes. Our immune system mobilizes with increased activation. We become prepared — physically and psychologically — for fight or flight. It is this response that saves lives when physical survival is threatened.
Keys to Making Sure That Your Stress is Working for YOU!
- Give yourself time to heal. This means enough down-time, quiet-time or free-time to stay healthy and balanced. Everyone needs different types and amounts, but taking the time is crucial to maximizing useful stress.
- Challenge yourself a little more every time, but do not take on more than you can handle. Bodybuilders know this and that is why they increase the weights but always a little at a time to avoid straining their muscles and joints. They start out at a normal size, but get stronger by slowly increasing their capabilities.
- Create a good support network. You will often see bodybuilders “spotting” one another on the heavy lifts. There is no need to go it alone. That is how people get hurt. Whether it is a mentor at church, a friend who uses the same daycare or a colleague who can cover when you are out sick or on vacation; we have got to watch each other’s backs.