Picture this – You are on a beautiful hike with your family, enjoying the vibrant sunshine on the back of your shoulders, sounds of the waves crashing down below, and the chirps of birds as they fly past, when all of a sudden, you look 6 feet ahead of you, and you see a full grown, extremely poisonous rattlesnake. BAM! Your fight or flight response kicks in. Your adrenaline and cortisol levels increase, heart rate shoots up, pupils dilate, awareness intensifies, sight sharpens, and blood literally moves away from your digestive tract into your limbs and muscles to prepare you to either 1) take your family and run; or 2) stay and fight! What is your response?!
Fortunately for us, these types of events don’t happen all that often, but unfortunately for us, the effects of the fight or flight response described above happen on a daily, if not hourly basis! However, in the modern world, these rattlesnakes come in the form of money troubles, rush hour traffic, missing a deadline at work, cramming for an exam, or a heated argument with our boss or spouse. In most cases today, once our fight or flight response is activated, we cannot flee. We cannot fight. We cannot physically run from our perceived threats. When we are faced with that rattlesnake, we must sit in our office and “control ourselves”, sit in traffic and “deal with it” or call the bank and “handle” it.
I know firsthand that stress, when experienced outside of our comfort zone, can singlehandedly send our emotions and overall quality of life down a very, very dark path. This is why, below, I have outlined 5 ways to help manage stress and teach our bodies how to thrive in the midst of stressful situations.
- Utilize Your Social Support System: Social support and connectivity with others contributes quite a bit to decreasing the negative effects of stress. Without a strong social support system, one walks through life alone, often resulting in heightened anxiety, and depression. Social support has as much effect on life expectancy as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and regular physical activity! The more social support one has, the happier one is. And the happier one is, the more advantages one can accrue in every domain of one’s life! Simply put, we have an innate need to affiliate and form social bonds and this has been literally wired into our biology from birth in order to protect us from our environment. So the next time you pass a stranger, give that stranger a “hello” or a smile, and feel how that simple gesture can provide you with positive and uplifting emotions.
- Impermanence (This Too Shall Pass): When things are going bad, they are never really going that bad. Conversely, when things are going good, they are never really going that good. We must keep in mind the power of impermanence. Nothing lasts, good or bad. Feelings come, and feelings go. So remember, the next time you get carried away with a stressful situation or negative emotion, remind yourself, “This Too, Shall Pass.”
- Meditation: This one is a true necessity if you plan on overcoming stress! Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other corporate giants have been known to back this undeniably effective practice! Meditation has been proven to enhance memory, creativity, and awareness! Additionally, it can boost individual performance, productivity, and leadership skills! Research has shown that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, and improve immune function.
Instructions: When the day gets stressful, pause, grab your phone & set the timer to go off in 10 minutes. Sit down & keep your back straight (against a wall or chair). Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold at the top of your inhale for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds and hold at the bottom of your exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat until timer goes off. If your mind wanders off (which it certainly will!), forgive it, and calmly bring your focus back to your breath. Option to add calming music to help ease the mind during your practice.
- Get Up, Stand Up! For every hour we sit down, we should be getting up (stretch, go to the bathroom, refill the water bottle) for 4‐5 minutes. Studies show that sitting for 10 hours in one given day can not only lead to added stress, weight gain, a slowed metabolism, diaphragm dysfunction, tight hips & back muscles, low back pain, numbness, tingling, neck pain and headaches, but it can also lead to depression, anxiety and extreme fatigue! That being said, there is still hope! Both standing and walking are proven to increase energy levels, burn calories, tone muscles, improve posture, increase blood flow and ramp up metabolism!
- Exercise: This is the GOLD STANDARD for managing stress and remaining healthy. At a minimum, perform for 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week. Exercise can take many different forms and you DO NOT need a gym membership to get active. Some examples might include walking, running, hiking, cycling, playing tennis, weight training, yoga, stretching and high intensity interval training (HIIT). Unsure of which type of exercise is best for you? Shoot me an e-mail or message and I would be more than happy to work with you on figuring that out!
Managing stress isn’t easy. It takes practice, dedication, and hard work. But once you start to feel the positive effects these 5 activities start to have on your emotions, health, and overall satisfaction with life, the only thing you will be regretting is why you didn’t start performing them sooner!