We all have stressors that affect our ability to live our lives exactly as we would like. Job pressure, money problems, health issues, rocky relationships, poor eating habits, the 24/7 news media, and sleep deprivation are the leading causes of stress. There are plenty of other less significant daily stressors that play a role too.
As the stress builds and our ability to cope with all that is facing us declines, we suffer from an array of side effects including fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, muscle tension, irritability and a lack of energy. According to the American Psychological Association, American Institute of Stress in New York, the number of people that are affected by stress is astounding:
- Percent of people who regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress – 77%
- Percent who regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress – 73%
- Percent who feel they are living with extreme stress – 33%
- Percent who say stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional life – 48%
- Percent who say they are “always” or “often” under stress at work – 30%
- Percent who lie awake at night due to stress – 48%
And all of this stress comes at a cost. The estimated cost to employers for stress related health care and missed work is $300 billion a year.
Stress and Chronic Disease
While your biggest concern is about the way stress is affecting your day-to-day life, the real issue is that chronic stress leads to chronic disease. When you are under stress on a daily basis, cortisol – the stress hormone – lingers in the blood stream and begins to destroy the white blood cells. This sets the stage for health related problems that range from autoimmune system diseases to cancer.
If you feel that you are under chronic, uncontrolled stress, you need to learn how to manage it before it has a negative impact on your quality of life and damages your health.
Three Strategies That Will Return You To Calm
Progressive muscle relaxation, relaxation breathing, and simple Tai-Chi moves are three stress busters that can be done when you’re stress meter has reached its limit. These methods are known to reduce blood pressure and heart rate. When you’re headed for a melt down, they will allow you to get a hold of your emotions before you respond to your situation in a way that you may later regret.
1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Muscle relaxation techniques have been proven to be highly effective for people suffering with stress and anxiety. The process involves tensing, then relaxing the muscles which enhances the mind and body connection.
When you’re under a deadline at work or sitting in a traffic jam that is keeping you from getting where you need to be on time, tense your muscles for 10 to 15 seconds then relax the muscles. Take a relaxing, cleansing breath, and repeat. You can start with the head and work down to the feet, or focus on the muscles that seem to be the most tense when anxiety strikes.
2. Relaxation Breathing – Dr. Andrew Weil is the guru of relaxation breathing techniques. My favorite is the 4-7-8 relaxation breathing exercise that Dr. Weil says is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Here’s how to practice the 4-7-8 method:
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there throughout the exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
3. Simple Tai Chi – There are many simple Tai Chi exercises that you can do at your desk at work or at home that will help keep you remain tranquil and balanced. The Heaven and Earth simple Tai Chi exercise is one of my favorites. To execute Heaven and Earth do the following:
- Pretend you have a rubber ball between you hands.
- Hold the ball at chest height with one hand on top of the ball and the other hand underneath. (Right hand on the bottom; left hand on top.)
- Imagine that the sky is falling.
- Take the left (bottom) hand and slowing move it up and away from your body towards the sky.
- At the same time take the right (top) hand and push it down and away from you towards the floor.
- Slowly return the hands to the center, this time with the right hand on the bottom and the left hand on top.
- Repeat the exercise until your movements become smooth.
Choose Your Reaction
These and other methods can do wonders to lower your stress. What they will also do is help you find that space between stimulus and response that Viktor E. Frankl talks about: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies sour growth and our freedom.”
Finding that space will help you avoid over eating, over drinking and other negative stress-releated behavior patterns. Plus it is a critical part of maintaining positive relationships and achieving work-life balance so that you can have a productive and fulfilling life.
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