We all know the impact stress can have on our lives- your mind is whirring deep into the night when you should be relaxing and getting ready to wind down. Or the stress of a heavy workload combined with other commitments make it all seem slightly too overwhelming. Or perhaps you reach for the cookies or junk food during times of stress. Most people thrive on a little bit of stress (which shouldn’t be confused with being busy which is a lovely and fulfilling feeling if you’re doing something you love) but stray away from the fine balancing act and it could be more detrimental than you think.
A recent study tested the effects on men and women given stressful math problems. While both men and women experienced increased blood pressure and heart rate, the blood flow to the heart did not go up in the women, unlike the men. According to researcher Chester Ray, PhD, professor of medicine and cellular and molecular physiology at Penn State’s College of Medicine in Hershey, the difference might explain why women are more likely than men to have heart problems after emotional upset, such as the loss of a partner.
Although more research needs to be done, this study suggests that mental stress tends to be more significant on a woman’s heart. Try these tips to help you manage your stress.
1. Recognise when you’re stressed.
This may be stating the obvious but many of us spend so much time in a stressed state we almost forget what it feels like to be relaxed and alert. Pay attention to your body. Do you feel your muscles tightening or your jaws clenching? How about your breathing? Is it shallow or deep and full? Place your hand on your chest and notice how it raises and falls with each breath. Pay attention to you breathe fully or when you “forget” to breathe.
In a previous blog post I wrote about the effects of fear and subsequent stress levels due to a scare or traumatic situation on our autonomic system.
The basic principle is that the more we think about something, the stronger the memory becomes as the amygdala in our brain forms deeper and deeper grooves. So, next time you have to confront a less than desirable situation at work, don’t keep replaying the situation in your head. This is not the same thing as ignoring a problem. It’s knowing that a hurtful or lazy comment or a rude person at the supermarket is really not worth your while. That way you can reserve your energy for much more important issues.
3. Eat well.
When you’re stressed, you immune system gets affected. When you don’t eat well, your body is like a car running on empty. So it’s vital that during stressful times, you help your body every way you can. Eating well also helps break that guilt associated with comfort eating. Mindlessly eating something that gives you short-term comfort often leads to feelings of inadequacy a little later. The last thing you need when you’re already stressed is the feeling that you’re not in control of yourself. To avoid the straw that breaks the camel’s back, get rid of the haystack.
4. Have acupuncture
Acupuncture treatment can help you feel more relaxed and positive. Your body is like a city’s infrastructure with roads and streets. When the traffic is free-flowing, everyone gets to their destination hassle-free and in plenty of time. However if there was a traffic jam in one part of the area, the ensuing blockages and chaos from diverted traffic spells a much different story. Acupuncture helps get rid of these traffic jams, or “stagnations” to help smooth the flow of qi, leaving you feeling much more relaxed and revitalised.
5. Find a listener.
Talking and being listened to really can make a world of difference. You don’t even have to talk about the stressful things happening in your life (think tip 2) but just having a genuine conversation is a wonderful thing. Your listener can be a close friend or colleague or your manicurist. You may be surprised at who turns out to be the best listener for you but make sure it’s someone who is discreet and non-judgemental.
Remember, you can’t control outside factors, but you can control how you manage stressful moments.
Image: Chris Zielecki/Zanthia via Flickr
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