Feeling stressed? Depending on the situation that can be a good thing or a bad thing. A physical response which sends the body “into fight or flight” mode with a release of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, stress comes in handy if you’re being chased by a snarling dog, or need to slam on the brakes to avoid a car wreck. The challenge comes when the body goes into a state of stress in response to overwhelming responsibilities, constant worry or feelings of anxiety. If kept in a prolonged “state of stress,” cortisol can flood the body, spike sugar and blood pressure levels, cause weight gain (especially around the waist), a decrease in libido, or chronic aches, pains, or problems with bodily functions. In short, chronic stress can be detrimental to overall health. So what’s a stressed out person to do?
BREATHE. There’s a reason we’re given that advice when we are ready to “fly off the handle.” It really does work, but unfortunately, most of us have become accustomed to shallow breathing from our chest, not deep breathing from our diaphragm. Next time you’re feeling stressed, find somewhere to sit or lie down, put one hand on your stomach and another on your chest, then slowly inhale through your nose, concentrating on drawing the breath into your belly, not your chest. Hold for a count of 5 to 10 seconds, whatever is comfortable, exhale and repeat. You’ll find it’s an easy stress relief/management technique.
MEDITATE. Touted as one of the best stress relief/management techniques on the planet, meditation can be described as “deep breathing to the tenth power.” By focusing on “clearing your mind” it keeps you in the present with little time to fret over the past or future. Meditation can be learned with the assistance of a professional, or through books or videos. Once mastered, it can be used in conjunction with daily gratitude (aka counting your blessings) to not only calm down but also increase positive feelings.
EMBRACE YOGA. There is a reason millions of people over thousands of years have discovered the benefits of yoga, so why shouldn’t you? It excels at de-stressing by combining deep breathing, the calming effects of meditation and physical benefits of easy to challenging poses. Chances are there are free or low-cost YOGA classes being taught at a local community center or park and there is likely a Yoga Studio near you that offers group and private sessions. With over 15 Yoga Disciplines commonly offered, Hatha Yoga is one of the most common styles incorporating breathing, meditation and poses. It’s a great stress relief/management choice for beginners who may appreciate its slower pace and easier movements.
USE GUIDED IMAGERY. By focusing on pleasant thoughts, beautiful places, or visualizing one’s self as more relaxed or confident, this technique has been touted by medical professionals as an excellent way to relieve stress. According to the Cleveland Clinic, which is a respected academic medical center, guided imagery can assist with anxiety, depression and stress relief/management among other things. Often used by world-class athletes and executives to enhance their confidence and performance, professional therapists and motivational coaches are two sources for guided imagery assistance. You may also find classes offered at a meditation center near you.
Susan Block is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in marriage, family and individual therapy. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University in 1997 and completed her Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University in 2004. Also an active member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), Susan Block practices in South Florida.