With the onset of April, we notice the first changes in the air that signal spring—budding trees, a slight warming and freshness to the breeze, tulips rearing their colorful heads, Easter candy stocking the shelves, and the white, winter-hidden legs of all of us desperately seeking sunshine at long last. But, since 1992, April has also brought with it the rather grand title of Stress Awareness Month.
Stress is something we can all relate to. It’s a normal part of the human existence. Good stresses such as new relationships and births and vacations vie with the tougher stresses of work, moving homes and poor health. The problem, though, is our body doesn’t always recognize the difference between “good” stress and “bad” stress. It’s just STRESS.
And stress damages the body, or as the quote goes, “It is not stress that kills us. It is our reaction to it.”
Increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety, Alzheimer’s, headaches, gastrointestinal diseases, premature aging and even early death are all linked to high stress levels.
No need to get stressed about stress, though! Take action and implement stress reducing activities now to ensure a long, healthy and lower-stress life.
Breathe it out
Even a couple minutes is enough to lower the fight or flight response our body initiates in response to a stressor. The best thing about breathing? It happens naturally and can be done from anywhere. Try this breathing exercise to feel instantly calmer: breathe in for four counts; hold at the top of the breath for five counts; and then exhale for six counts. Try to lengthen those time periods as you become calmer.
All about perspective
When traffic comes to a standstill and you’re punching the steering wheel and showing off your well-manicured middle finger to passers-by, pause for a moment and reframe the situation. How big a deal is your situation in the long run? Focus on the positive, such as having a little more time to yourself without any obligations—some more time to listen to that intriguing podcast or finish singing your favorite song.
Speaking of songs—music is a great way to redirect your attention. When you are feeling stressed, you’re allowing the situation to take over. Step back and focus on something positive. This could be reflecting on three things for which you’re grateful; or putting on a song that always gets you dancing; or asking Siri to ‘tell you a joke.’ Redirect your attention and step away from the stress. Take control of the situation rather than allowing it to control you.
Om Sweet Om
Start a regular yoga practice. The best part about yoga is that it teaches the body to cope in a stressful situation on the mat (a safe place)—which leads to a better understanding of how to cope off the mat. And, you can even change your body chemistry with a regular yoga practice. Studies have shown that yoga can actually rewire your neural network, leading to better coping mechanisms and improved health.
Lastly, one thing at a time. It’s easy to fret over the past and worry about the future and all the things start to pile up one on top of the other until you feel as though you’re drowning under the Sisyphean weight of all the stresses and worries and concerns. Phew! As mentioned above, step back. Breathe. Find perspective. Focus on the now. One small thing at a time. It’s easy to let it all snowball and feel trapped by everything at once. Take your day one moment at a time—make a to-do list. Do what you can to maintain perspective and stay in the now. We forget that we have survived 100% of the struggles we’ve experienced.
Those are pretty good odds. You’ve got this.