According to Webster’s Dictionary, stress is “any mental or physical tension or strain.” Stress is an everyday part of life. You can’t avoid it, but you can do certain things to alleviate it. In our society, people try to reduce stress in a variety of negative ways, such as taking over- the-counter drugs, overeating, and watching television. I’m going to suggest some positive steps you can take to reduce stress. First of all, consider your answers to the following questions:
Do you often get a headache?
Do you notice yourself holding your breath?
Do your shoulders and back often feel tense?
Do you have trouble sleeping?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have the symptoms of stress. If you don’t heed your body’s warning signals and do something about your stress, you may end up with a stress-related illness such as heart disease, cancer, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, impotence, chronic low back pain, and respiratory problems. You need to focus on positive ways to reduce the effects of stress.
What you can do:
Exercise. Exercising regularly is one of the most effective ways of reducing the tension in your body. Examples include bike riding, weight lifting, swimming, and jogging. Pick an exercise program that you enjoy, which will keep you motivated, and one that you are physically capable of doing. Be careful not to overdo it or to do an exercise that might exacerbate any existing physical problems or injuries.
Practice deep breathing. When we’re stressed, our breathing is often shallow and short. Taking long, slow, deep breaths can prevent you from tensing up and developing a headache. For two weeks practice the following deep breathing exercise three times a day for fifteen minutes: Take a comfortable position and put one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Slowly breathe in through your nose, hold it for a couple of seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. If your chest rises more than your stomach, you’re breathing from your chest, which is one of the symptoms of stress. Be sure to breathe from your abdomen. Practicing this exercise regularly will help to change your breathing pattern. Then, when you catch yourself stressing out, you can stop and breathe deeply for a few minutes.
Imagine a peaceful, relaxing place. When I’m stressed out, I imagine myself walking along the ocean, listening to the sound of the waves, smelling the cool refreshing air, feeling the warm sun against my face. Find a place, either real or imaginary, where you feel exceptionally relaxed, and practice imagining it as fully as you can in all your senses. When you feel your stress level rising, return to this place in your imagination for a few minutes.
Talk to someone you trust. When you’re upset, holding your feelings inside doesn’t help. It’s better to share your feelings with someone you trust. Your problem may not be solved, but talking about your negative feelings will help to reduce your stress.
Maintain good eating and sleeping habits. When you don’t eat or sleep right, your body feels stressed. Eat healthy foods and get six to eight hours of sleep a night.
Manage your time effectively. When you’re not getting everything done, you’re going to feel stressed. Sit down and prioritize what you need to do. Give more time to the activities that are important and less time to those that aren’t. By scheduling and organizing your time, you’re more likely to get things done and thus feel less stressed.
Think realistically. Sometimes our negative thinking makes things seem worse than they really are. For example, let’s say your boss appears to have an angry look on his face, and you conclude that he’s angry with you. The truth is, he might be stressed out for reasons of his own. Perhaps he doesn’t feel well or has fallen behind on a deadline. Look at the facts before you jump to conclusions.
Laugh. Laughing releases endorphins that can help reduce stress. Look at the light side of life. Watch a funny movie. Read a humorous novel or a book of jokes.
Do something pleasant for yourself. Get a massage, take a trip, or have dinner at your favorite restaurant. You can also engage in pleasant activities that don’t involve money. For example, take a hot bath, go for a nice walk, have a picnic at the park, or curl up with a good book.
Use aromatherapy in your home. The fragrances of aromatherapy, which are usually derived from flower and plant oils, powders, and resins, are designed to reduce stress and affect the mood. Some popular aromas are lavender, sandalwood, juniper, rosemary, jasmine, and rose. Scented candles, incense, and potpourris are examples of aromatherapy. Each person is different, so experiment until you find a smell that calms and relaxes you.
Create a relaxing home environment. Your home should be a place where you can refresh and rejuvenate yourself. You don’t need to remodel, just accessorize the space to create a stress-free oasis. Soothing accessories can include pictures of loved ones, fresh or scented flowers, plants, indoor water fountains, artwork, and health and beauty magazines. Have fun making your home stress free and completely relaxing!
Let go of the things you can’t control. Many aspects of our environment are beyond our control, and overstressing about them wastes our time and energy. For example, you can’t change how other people drive or your spouse’s annoying little habits, and you can’t avoid being laid off from work or a death in the family. Remind yourself to be realistic about what you can and can’t control and don’t cause yourself unnecessary stress.
Avoid people who are demeaning or irritating. Mean people are toxic. They drain your energy, stress you out, and make you feel bad about yourself. Avoid them. Choose instead to spend time with people who are friendly, positive, and supportive.
Be assertive. Let people know what you think, feel, and want. You have a right to stand up for yourself without bullying others or allowing them to bully you. Stress occurs when you let others take advantage of you. Practice with friends and family. Especially if there’s an issue that’s stressing you out, take some time to rehearse what you’re going to say. Being prepared in a situation will reduce the tension. Once you’ve practiced being assertive, you’ll be able to draw on your assertiveness whenever the need arises.
Seek support. If you find the stress and anxiety overwhelming, then seek professional help from a counselor who works with clients who have trouble reducing their stress. You can also attend a support group, workshop, or class that teaches stress-management techniques.