Let’s just call it what it is. We are a nation driven by productivity and staying on the move. There is nothing wrong with being driven, motivated, involved, and focused. However, when we are completely focused on such things, our health can get out of balance, and our stress level can rise if we are not both careful and proactive. Stress can cause physical conditions, increase weight gain, and disrupt sleep. Finding a work life balance is key, but taking just a few moments daily to pause, breathe, meditate, pray, or do something that you enjoy will be enriching and enable you to be happier and healthier in the work that you need to do each day.
Why should we pay attention to our stressors? I can handle it…
When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.-mayoclinic.com
Stress affects us. And our body doesn’t know the difference between good stress and bad stress. Good stress could be preparing for a holiday party or planning a wedding. Perhaps you bought your first home. Exciting, but busy! And your flight-or-flight response still goes into action just as it would if you were struggling to meet a deadline, or sitting in rush hour traffic.
The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.
But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
-Memory and concentration impairment -mayoclinic.com
What to do? I watch TV at night…does that count?
If catching a show in the evening relaxes you and helps you to zone out and be worry free for a bit, then by all means make this a part of your stress management. However, I am really looking for each of us to do a little more for this challenge. Here are some great options for you to choose from in beginning to practice relaxation as part of your day, your week, and your life!
Take a moment and put to words what your stressors actually are. Remember stress can be external; crazy job, crazy commute, crazy family…And it can be internal, bad attitude, sadness, perfectionism, people-pleasing…
Once you identify your stressors, try to identify what is under the stress – what is the root cause? Then decide to make a change in your actions or behaviors, or decide to change the way you think about it.
Relaxation is not easy. Being intentional about carving time out for even 5 minutes of deep breathing can prove to be a challenge. Start small and take note of how your relaxation techniques affect you. Once you have reaped some of what you’ve sown, begin to work in more time or activities to dedicate to this practice. Here are a few research founded exercises to help deal with stress management, chronic pain, and better health.
As a respiratory therapist I have used this technique to lower patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, and breath rate in just minutes. It is a fantastic tool that I use as a trainer, and also personally in dealing with stress and pain. (By allowing more oxygen to get to tense or painful tissues, this breathing technique can ease pain for anyone!) If I am having trouble dozing off at night, I can go to these breaths and relax and fall asleep more easily. Lastly, I try to get a few of these therapeutic deep breaths in while I am sitting at a red light!
Relax. Use easy listening music to guide you:
Qigong (pronounced chee-gong):
An ancient Chinese meditation practice in the tradition of Tai Chi, which combines visualization, breath and posture to restore and maintain a natural state of mind-body vibrancy and balance, regardless of age or health condition.
The practice entails coordinating slow movements with breathing to cultivate the flow of energy, or Qi (chee), in a sort of graceful, fluid dance. It is a form of exercise, but is much less a muscle-based workout and more of a mindful energetic-based practice.-mayoclinic.com
This is the relaxation app I have been using several times a week at night!
Yoga and good old stretching:
The benefits have been recognized!
There are so many additional ways to relax. Find something that you may enjoy doing today, then check this box off on your Holiday Challenge Calendar 2013!