Stress is a natural part of life. It is something that everyone experiences at times regardless of age. (Because even though they may not be able to articulate it, children feel stress too.) Stress is a normal response to situations that we, whether consciously or unconsciously, perceive to be threatening.
The stress response is an internal physiological phenomenon of brain activation and hormone secretion which sets off a “fight-or-flight” response that can provide us with the burst of energy needed to escape dangerous situations. This mechanism has been very helpful to us humans through the years as a way to ensure our survival.
In todayʼs busy world, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the demands that are placed upon you either by yourself or others. Yet, oftentimes these demands are not life-threatening, even though the culmination of these stressors may make it feel as though it were.
This culmination can become a vicious cycle in which you may find yourself in a state of perpetual stress. Eventually this feeling of being constantly “stressed out” can grow to become understood as a normal state of being.
However, living from a place where one is constantly “stressed out” comes with both a physical and a mental price. While we are evolutionarily hard-wired to respond to stress, our overall health and well-being are affected when this constant state of stress becomes a way of life.
Some of the health problems that have been found to be linked with the long-term activation of the stress-response system, due particularly to the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones, are:
• Heart disease
• Sleep problems
• Digestive problems
• Memory impairment
• Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema
These are serious health conditions that greatly affect the quality of life for many people in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 27.1 million Americans are diagnosed with heart disease. Statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health state that in a given year, approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the US population age 18 and older is affected by major depressive disorder. Additionally, about 3.3 million American adults, or 1.5 percent of the population, are affected by dysthymic disorder, or chronic, mild depression.
Following are three easy things that you can do to manage stress for yourself:
• Increase awareness around your own personal stress signals. When you notice yourself becoming stressed, draw attention to what is happening in the present moment. What particular thoughts, feelings or sensations are you experiencing? By shifting focus back to the here-and-now, you can develop a more objective view that can be helpful to you in finding resolution to the stressful situation.
• Simply make a sound, any sound. Many people tend to withhold their voice for anything other than speaking. However, it can feel really good to just sound out how you feel, without any words- just pure sound. It can be a sigh, hum, growl, bark… however you are feeling the need to express yourself in the moment. Creating sound like this with your voice can help you reconnect with your breath because it requires you to breathe more fully and deeply. This allows feelings of tension and stress to move through and out of your body. As a result, you can feel more grounded and energized.
• Lastly, move your body. By moving your body, you give your brain a break from problem-solving, while also giving yourself a chance to reconnect with your body. Turn on some music and dance! After some movement or exercise, you can come back to the task at hand feeling refreshed and renewed.
These three little things are all easy to do. They donʼt require that you pay for treatments or buy special equipment. Try them out for yourself and see how you feel, and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention FastStats:
Mayo Clinic- Stress Related Articles
National Institute of Mental Health- The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America http:// www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/ index.shtml#