Jill Murphy, DPT, LAT, CSCS
In our can’t fit enough in a day society that is connected and “on” twenty-four seven, it has never been more important to step off the crazy treadmill of everyday life to reduce your stress. April happens to be Stress Reduction Month, however, stress reduction is key to living a healthy and balanced life all year long. While short term stress can leave us feeling over-worked and irritable, long term stress has a significant impact on our health, increasing production of cortisol and increasing our risk of health problems like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, IBS, and injuries like neck pain, back pain, TMJ dysfunction, and headaches.
What are some signs of being at risk for a stress-related problem?
- Having to constantly check your devices (addiction to constant communication)
- Small muscle twitches anywhere in the body, i.e. eyelid twitching
- Increased dependence on caffeine to get through the day
- No longer being interested in work and friends that you used to enjoy
- Skipping work-outs
- Choosing foods based on your emotions at the time
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Falling unusually behind schedule on work and home projects
- Frequent illness
- Feeling constantly over-worked and on the go
- Over-commitment to too many obligations at once
- Feeling like life is speeding out of control
So, you may have a problem. How can you go about addressing the stress in your life? Here are a few ideas to get started.
1. Write down the problems or situations in life that feel stressful.
2. Decide which of these problems is directly or indirectly in your control.
3. Choose to no longer worry about those problems over which you have no control at all. This is an important choice. If you feel you simply cannot do this, discuss this difficulty with your pastor or a counselor to give suggestions ideas on how to accomplish this very important task.
4. Make a decision about which problem or two to address that you do have control over. This might mean talking to a friend or loved one about an issue, confronting your spouse over problems you have been avoiding, or even talking to a teacher or neighbor. Feel free to be creative in suggesting solutions, and also ask for help if you get stuck in deciding on the best way to approach the issue from your friends, spouse, pastor, or counselor.
5. Feeling over-committed? Write down a list of your commitments and/or your to do list, and try to cut this list by 25% by prioritizing what is either absolutely necessary (like driving your kids to school) and what helps relieve your stress (like meeting a friend for coffee), and dropping those items that sap your energy and steal your joy.
6. Stick by your decisions and your priorities. Before committing to anything new that will take away time each week, ask yourself if you have the time to take this on and still have time to rest and recover. Also ask close friends, relatives, and co-workers what they think about you taking on something new. Their honest feedback may be enlightening!
7. List one thing each day that you are not currently doing that can help you stop and spend time gaining perspective during your day. This may include spending time in prayer or meditation, reading the Bible, any other reading (actual book or magazine, NOT on a device), stretching and diaphragmatic breathing, working out, taking a walk in nature, and/or taking a 15 minute lunch break sitting outside (not working or checking your email or Facebook).
8. Choose one or two weekly items you can do to relieve your stress. Ideas include going for coffee, hanging out in a bookstore, taking a warm bath, writing a song, playing an instrument, or doing something else you may have enjoyed in the past but have forgotten about like a hobby or sporting activity.
9. Exercise at least 30 minutes, five days a week. Make sure it is something you enjoy doing, and perform this activity outside, in nature, whenever possible, as the setting alone can reduce your stress.
10. Get enough sunlight and Vitamin D. Don’t be afraid to utilize a light therapy box to get your rays in wintertime in cold weather climates like Wisconsin.
11. Eat a healthy and balanced diet, and choose beverages to give you natural energy without a big drop in blood sugar or energy level you may get from coffee, soda, and energy drinks.
12. Wind down before bedtime. Don’t cram in your computer work or spend an hour on Facebook right before you turn out the lights, as the backlit blue light screen on electronic devices stimulates your nervous system, signaling your brain to stay awake. Read an actual book or magazine with low lights instead.
13. Go on vacation! Americans take the least amount of vacation days compared to any other major economy in the world, and then we wonder why we are the most stressed! Get out there and discover a new experience or location; delight your mind in some new curiosities and your brain will feel relaxed and refreshed.
14. Be thankful. Write down a list of five things for which you are grateful or just name 3 items while feeling stressed or overwhelmed. You will be amazed how quickly your attitude will change and your perspective will not look as deoressing as it once did.
15. Serve others. You can’t dwell on the things in your life that you cannot change and bring you down if your focus is on serving someone else. This item is very powerful, so don’t forget to spend time going out of your way for others, as the intangible benefits you receive will be well worth your time and effort.