Stress can surface in many different forms, but the body reacts the same way – by activating our “fight or flight” response. When this system is activated, it sends stress hormones through our bodies. These hormones cause an increase in heart rate, elevation in blood pressure, it diverts blood from our organs and can decrease the effectiveness of your digestive and immune systems.
Our “fight or flight” response was only meant to drive us into action for short periods of time, say, if our life was put in danger by a fast approaching sabre-toothed tiger. Once the threat was gone, our body system would be balanced again by our “rest and digest” system. Our heart rate and blood pressure would return to normal, and our organs would once again be supplied with blood to continue digesting and building up our immune system.
The problem with life now is that in today’s world we don’t have sabre-toothed tiger problems, but we do have many other stressors in our lives; from work, to the demands of raising a family, to financial problems. Unfortunately, our body cannot distinguish the threat of a tiger attack from the stress of making a deadline. Nowadays, our bodies tend to stay in “fight or flight” mode for hours, days, weeks, months, even years, and suddenly (or not so suddenly) you’ve got a body that is at risk of developing some serious health problems. Perhaps you are experiencing some of them right now….tension headaches? Problems sleeping? Anxiety? Digestive problems? Heart disease? Increased blood pressure?
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your “fight or flight” response, and engage your “rest and digest” system. Here are 5 ways that can decrease the stress hormones in your body and increase some of those happy hormones.
Breathe: For immediate stress relieve, take 10 deep breaths. Not only does the act of breathing properly calm you down, nourishing your body with oxygen will help you function better! Try this test – Put one hand on your chest, and the other hand on your belly. Now, take a deep breath. Do it again and notice which hand is moving. Is it the hand on your chest? or your belly? If your belly hand moved, then, by all means, keep breathing! If only your chest hand moved, then your breathing is shallow and your inhalation is weak. One of the keys to deep breathing is to do it s-l-o-w-l-y. Start by inhaling for a count of 5 and then exhaling for a count of 5. Practice proper breathing daily, and you may be on your way to reducing your feelings of stress.
Laugh: Did you know that the science of laughter is called Gelotology, which makes that old saying “laughter is the best medicine” something to seriously ponder! It is proven that laughter releases those stress-busting hormones called endorphins. The great thing about laughing is that you don’t have to necessarily feel happy or have a particularly funny sense of humour. Nor does it have to be a “real” laugh, as your body can’t distinguish between fake laughter and genuine laughter! So feel free to laugh at someone’s silly jokes, or set aside some time to watch a funny movie or read a hilarious book. Laughter does the body good.
Nap: some of us are seriously sleep deprived, others may just feel drained around mid-day and can’t seem to keep going. For a quick energy boost, give yourself a 20 minute nap around lunchtime, you will be amazed at how recharged you will feel! Not only does a short nap increase your alertness, it also improves performance, which decreases mistakes and accidents. If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, a longer nap, up to 90 minutes, will allow your body to gear down into “rest and digest” mode, decreasing your stress hormone levels. Now that’s something to sleep on.
Exercise: Whether it be a small change in your life, like taking a brisk walk on your lunch hour or choosing the stairs instead of the elevator, or a larger change, like enrolling in a running program or a yoga class, exercise is a proven and effective way to decrease mounting stress. Exercise can increase those “feel good” hormones. Exercise can also be a form of “movement meditation”, where your brain starts focusing on what you are doing and less about what you are stressed about!
Turn off your devices – Being at someone’s, or something’s, beck and call 24/7, can be exhausting. Whether it be emails, texts, phone calls, social media updates, there is always the desire to respond – now, which can put stress on your time if it’s limited, and sometimes even lead you to make poor decisions about when and where to reply to the demanding beep of your smart phone! Give yourself permission to be device-free for a certain amount of time each day. For some of us it may be as easy as turning everything off as soon as you walk in the door from work and not turning them on again until you wake up the next morning. For others, it may be just 15 minutes a day. No stress. Good or bad. For 15 minutes. Use that time to take a walk, nap, or laugh or just breathe, for additional stress relief.
Using one, or more, of these stress busters daily is sure to keep you healthy and functioning optimally. What are some techniques you use for keeping your stress to a minimum? Join the conversation on our Facebook page!
While there may be information related to certain medical conditions and their treatment on this website, please consult your doctor or other healthcare professional to determine if a treatment described in the website is appropriate for you.