Both short and long-term stress can have effects on your body. In fact, long-term stress can lead to a wide range of illnesses from headaches to stomach disorders to depression and can even increase the risk of serious conditions like stroke and heart disease.
Stress response is a survival mechanism that is hardwired into our nervous systems. This automatic response is necessary for mobilizing quick reflexes when there is imminent danger, such as swerving to avoid a car crash.
When you perceive a threat, stress hormones rush into your bloodstream increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels.
When you perceive a threat, stress hormones rush into your bloodstream increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Other hormones also suppress functions like digestion and the immune system, which is one of the reasons why chronic stress can leave you more vulnerable to illness.
Danger triggers the stress response. Unfortunately, so can work conflicts, concerns over debt, bad memories, or anxiety in general. Although one bad day at work won’t compromise your health, weeks or months of stress can dampen your immune response and raise your risk for disease.
If you suffer from chronic stress and can’t influence or change the situation, then you’ll need to change your approach. Be willing to be flexible, recognize when you don’t have control and let it go, and don’t get anxious about situations that you cannot change.
Take control of your own reactions and focus your mind on something that makes you feel calm and in control. This may take some practice, but it pays off in peace of mind. Also, be sure to carve out some time to relax and take care of yourself each day to improve your ability to handle life’s stressors. Even a five-minute break can have a big impact of your stress level. Try one the following stress busters when feel your stress levels rising.
Five Minute “Stress-Busters”
- Deep Breathing: Inhale deeply, feeling your stomach expand. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then slowly exhale, visualizing tension leaving your body.
- Meditation: Close your eyes and mentally follow your breathing. As you exhale, mentally repeat a simple or soothing word with each breath, or visualize a peaceful scene. Do this for at least five minutes, or for more benefit, up to thirty minutes.
- Self-Talk: Replace negative mental responses to stress, such as “I can’t cope,” with positive ones, such as “Everything is going to work out” or “I know I can do it.”
- Laugh: Just laugh out loud, or do something that will make you laugh, like reading a joke book or watching a television comedy.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: While sitting or lying in a relaxed position, tense the muscles of your feet as much as you can, then relax them and notice the difference in the feeling. Tense and relax the muscles in your legs, arms, stomach, back, neck and head, one region at a time. When finished, remain in a stated of complete relaxation for a few minutes.
- Stretching: Sit in a chair with your upper body resting forward on your lap. Slowly roll up, starting at the base of your spine, until your back is straight. Stretch neck muscles by tilting your head to the right and slowly rolling your head down and to the left. Repeat a few times in both directions.
- Self-Massage: Sit with your shoulders relaxed. Use your right hand to massage your left shoulder and neck, working your way up to the scalp. Repeat, using your left hand for your right shoulder.