You have probably complained about stress at some point in your life. But are you doing something about it, or are you trying to ignore it and letting it grow?
Stress is like a bank that pays you great interest–except it’s all negative! It takes your small, daily, problems and compounds them over time into life threatening illnesses.
Don’t mess with stress; it will win in the end. Face it now!
The symptoms of stress are almost as varied as individual people are, but here are some of the more common signs.
Pain — in chest, back, neck or head.
Digestion — heartburn, dry mouth, constipation or diarrhea, weight gain or loss, change in appetite.
Disease — increase in colds, flu, herpes type diseases, viral infections.
Autoimmune — allergy attacks, itching, hives, rash, other skin problems.
Mental — racing thoughts, forgetfulness, trouble learning or making decisions, insomnia, bad dreams.
Social — lack of care for appearance, withdrawal, lack of sexual desire, lying, increased tobacco or alcohol or drug use, gambling or impulse buying begins or increases.
Emotional — feeling worthless, overreacting, defensiveness, irritability, panic attacks, crying.
As you can see, stress affects all parts of the body. We often think of stress as just an emotional problem, and therefore, something we can control. So you may not recognize its hold on you until you see some of these other physical symptoms. But how can you combat it?
If you feel stressed, or you are seeing some of the physical signs listed above, there are many ways you can help yourself.
Choose a trusted friend and open up. If you really can’t think of someone you can trust with your trouble, talk to your pet, or write down what you would say. Get it out!
Talk to your doctor. He or she can help you sort out what is going on with your mix of physical and emotional symptoms. Do not be afraid to seek professional counseling. Counselors have vastly more knowledge and insight than your average friend (no matter how caring your friend may be). Legally they are required to be “safe” and trustworthy. At the very least, a counselor will hold you accountable, and this will enable you to see progress, which is always encouraging.
This could include anything from playing with your pet to intense yoga training.
Yoga is an often recommended form of relaxation therapy because it has the added benefit of working your body as well. I know next to nothing about yoga, so let me direct you to a great website: https://yogalivingtoday.com/ . Peruse this extensive site, and if your’e interested, I’ll bet you you will be hooked. (He’s almost got me hooked).
Meditation can be done without the physical yoga poses. This involves spiritual reading and prayer. It’s purpose is to open your mind and provide emotional release. If you find yourself rehashing your problems over and over before God, STOP and go do something constructive. Focusing on your trouble is NOT relaxing, and this meditation actually becomes harmful.
Music is also a great way to change your mood. It can help you relax, or motivate you to get busy, or simply create a feeling of release and happiness. I read yesterday on Facebook that someone has done a study which shows that if you sing for ten minutes everyday you will banish your depression. While this is hardly credible science, it does support the idea that music affects your mood. This being said, I want to CAUTION: be careful of the lyrics, make sure they do not remind you of something painful, and some styles of music can irritate your nerves, avoid these.
Exercise is a proven stress buster. The primary trick to making it work is that you DO IT! If possible, get in 20 minutes at a time. Also, do it outdoors because sunshine is a mood booster. Recommended exercises are stretching, walking, running, dancing and swimming. But the most important thing is that you move your body to increase your heart rate, for as long as you can, as often as you can. Quit making excuses and do it!
Sleep is your body’s natural way of restoring itself. Without enough sleep, both your body and your mind will become chronically tired–it will never get fully recharged, renewed and rebooted. In fact, lack of sleep produces stress even as stress can produce lack of sleep.
How do you get to sleep when you are stressed? Exercise and relaxation will help, but here are a few more suggestions.
- Try taking melatonin. This is a natural sleep inducing substance, but it doesn’t work for everyone. If it does not work for you, ask your doctor for a recommendation.
- Pray: first for yourself and your problems, then leave it and move on to pray for others, and to give thanks. Gratitude is key to healthy thinking.
- Mental Imaging (this is what works best for me). Imagine a place where you are safe and comfortable. You can include soothing sights, sounds or sensations, but nothing stimulating. Some people are helped by the feeling of falling or flying, or that they are being rocked by a boat or train. (For me, movement is too stimulating.) Create a space where your senses can relax and let go. That is your sleep space. Then, when you put your body to bed, put your mind into your sleep space.
I dealt with this in my post Stress and Digestion: Part II. Put simply: good food will help you feel better, bad food won’t.
Do not take chemical shortcuts to relieve stress. These are things that provide temporary relief, but have a bounce-back effect of more stress in the long run. You know the list: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, tobacco, drugs–especially recreational drugs, but even something as harmless as NSAID pain relievers can cause stress to your stomach, which will in turn relay stress to the rest of your body.
Consider, also, how to eliminate, or at least reduce, stressful relationships. Be creative in avoiding offensive, irritating people. You are not obligated to relate to them just because they put themselves in your path. For the ones you truly must deal with, create a plan, a mindset, a shield for yourself. Work at using this protection mechanism instead of fussing about how obnoxious the other individual is.
If Stress Wins
Not facing your stress and taking steps to deal with it, will lead to bigger problems. The list of symptoms I started with will develop into more and more serious diseases: depression, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, cancer, infertility, degenerative neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, autoimmune disease such as MS and rheumatoid arthritis. Troubled relationships will only become worse when you ignore them.
Treat your stress now! Learn coping skills so that you can live successfully with the stress you cannot eliminate. Believe that you are worth the effort, and that you can take the time you need to deal with your stress. Start small, but do it! Keep it simple, but keep progressing!
Please share your story below, and your tips for stress busting. Thanks very much!