Defining Stress & How to Better Manage It
December 5th 2019
During the holiday season, we all have to face an influx of stressors, which as you and I both know can be quite overwhelming at times. Whether its the overload of social events you’re obligated to attend, the general rushing pace most people assume, or the extra financial expenses you can’t seem to avoid, these situations tend to cause a great deal of stress. Are we all just stuck facing these circumstances and the increased stress levels that typically come along with them or is there something that we can do to improve our stress management abilities? You will find the answer to that question down below along with an honest look at what stress is and how it affects your body. I will also share with you some tips that’ll help you better regulate your stress levels, which don’t include you having to move to an isolated mountain top to meditate for the next 20 years.
So What Exactly Is Stress?
We all know that we experience stress and seemingly in larger quantities around this time of year. But what does science say that stress is in its most simplistic form…
Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response. ~ WebMD
How We Physiologically Deal with Stress
There are 3 phases of stress that we all experience based on Hans Selye’s research and his theory called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). The phases are as follows:
Phase 1: Alarm or Reaction Stage
This is when our fight-or-flight response is initiated. The fight-or-flight response that occurs in this stage is for your safety and protection. This response increases adrenaline levels as well as other stress hormones, which is helpful in assisting you to fix or remove the threat you’re facing. It
gives you more energy and improves your concentration so that you can focus on and tackle the situation at hand. When stress or threat is short in duration then the alarm stage is not harmful and can actually improve your body’s own natural ability to deal with stress.
Phase 2: Resistance
If the stressor from a situation has been removed, fixed, or adequately dealt with then minimal resistance is experienced. The body will naturally begin to calm down and replenish itself until your heart rate and hormone levels have returned to there pre-stress levels. Although you most likely still stay on high alert for a while longer.
However, if what caused the initial stress persists then your body will begin to adapt to this new way of living. You may be completely unaware of the changes that your body is undergoing. But prolonged stress will eventually lead to other health complications such as heart or vascular-related conditions, digestive health problems as stress can create imbalances in the microbiome contained within the gut as well as adrenal fatigue and many more unfavourable issues.
Phase 3: Exhaustion
When you are exposed to prolonged stress it is extremely draining on your internal systems. It almost always results in the depletion of adrenal hormones which can negatively affect other glands such as the thyroid and the balance of many hormones and neurotransmitters in the body. This causes a cascade of negative effects physically, mentally and emotionally.
What to Do About Stress
We all try to avoid stress in one way or another however completely eradicating stress from our lives wouldn’t be healthy, not all stress is necessarily “bad”. There are forms of “good stress” that are called eustress. The “good” stress trigger’s our brains to tell our body to breathe, our heart to beat, and our food to be digested. They can also have other positive effects on our lives such as:
- Helping us achieve those hard to reach goals, giving us a sense of drive or ambition
- Helping us survive during distress, which provides a sense of strength and security
- Helping us to learn new things, leaving us with a sense of achievement
So, accepting stress both the good and bad as just part of our lives is ideal although there are ways to better manage your stress levels so that you stay in tip-top shape.
General Tips for Better Managing Your Stress Levels
Some positive habits that will help to minimize the negative effects of stress are:
Practicing certain breathing and mindfulness techniques
Partaking in regular moderate exercise (like walking or yoga)
Leading a balanced lifestyle
Understanding and accepting your strengths and weaknesses
Making sure you have a support network (people you can trust in your life)
Taking time for yourself and rewarding yourself
Considering our ever increasingly busy lives and lack of time it can be difficult to put these tips into practice. Therefore I highly recommend that you try a very simple and easy breathing technique which I explain in detail down below.
The Long Exhale Breathing Exercise
Please note that there are many breathing exercises that are helpful in reducing your stress levels however we chose this one because it is very easy to learn and put into practice. This exercise can be done lying down or seated (if sitting do your best to keep the spine long and try not to slouch). Now close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Ideally, you’re breathing through your nose, however, this is not always an option so through the mouth will definitely do if needed. As you breathe think about taking a gentle inhale, filling the lungs as comfortably as you can without straining the neck or shoulders. Continue doing this for a few breaths.
Now once you establish a gentle but full inhale shift your focus to your exhale. To begin the process of lengthening your exhale, first consciously begin to slow your exhale down. Then use your abdominal muscles to ring out a little bit more air at the end of each exhale by drawing your belly button in towards your spine. Continue this lengthening of the exhale until you arrive at a point that you’re comfortable with and then take another 5 to 10 breaths.
This exercise can be done anytime during the day or if you are having trouble sleeping. However, to really benefit from any new practice daily use is ideal at least in the beginning. So try setting aside 2-3 minutes a day for this breathing technique for at least a couple for weeks so that you develop this healthy habit and help it become a part of your routine.
By doing this exercise you will tone the Vegas nerve which is in charge of your heart, lungs, and digestive system which includes all of the mood moderating hormones that are created in the gut as well as your facial muscles. It can help reduce insomnia, sleep disturbances, anxiety, as well as enhance heart and gut health. All of which will assist your body in better managing its stress levels.
I hope you found this article helpful and encourage you to share it with friends and family that you think could benefit from this post as well. Make sure to join our mailing list to be the first to know about new posts, videos, the release of our guided meditation cd, and other goodness. I wish you a safe and happy holiday season!
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