Just when you thought you could escape it…
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. That’s right—you can’t stop it or avoid it. Sounds stressful huh? Well, it’s not all bad since humans are equipped to handle stress—the good (eustress) and the bad (distress). We’ve got what’s called the fight-or-flight response (sometimes it’s called the fight, flight, or freeze response) and it’s hard-wired in our brains. When faced with a stressor (like a big scary tiger) we either fight (hand-to-paw combat), or flight (run away really fast), or freeze (we can’t move away but have increased awareness). Of course, stressors are not only big scary animals. Stress can show up as a new job, a first date, a surgery, accident, bad day at work, fight with a loved one, and so on. Stress can have lasting physiological and psychological effects if we don’t take care of ourselves and cope with stress in healthy ways.
Since we’ve all got to deal with stress, we might as well be as prepared as possible, right? How you ask? With coping strategies of course. And it’s a good idea to have a few at your disposal since you never know when you’ll need them. Also, when you have positive coping strategies at the ready, you won’t be inclined to adopt negative ones that could lead to harmful or unhealthy outcomes such as substance abuse, smoking, social isolation, obesity, and other health problems.
Top Five Coping Strategies (to keep on hand) for Stress
1. Meditate — a practice by which one clears and quiets the mind, (among other mindful techniques) which has been researched to bring about a positive change in brainwaves, blood pressure, neurochemicals, and sleep/wake cycles. In doing so, it significantly decreases stress levels. Try it a few times to feel the difference for yourself. For more information on meditation click: http://1.usa.gov/Mkdeog
2. Seek out Supportive People — Access a supportive person or people and talk it out. Your friends, family, supportive co-workers or group members can really help curb the effects of stress when they listen with a caring ear, and in a nonjudgmental way. When good supports are hard to find, you may decide to invest in a caring therapist, counselor, coach, or social worker.
3. Exercise — Ever heard of “burning off steam”? Or, you could say, “exercise to get rid of excess stress.” Makes sense huh? Dance, walking, yoga, aerobic classes, bike riding, housecleaning, gardening, karate, tai chi, swimming, horseback riding, etc, helps to unleash pent-up stress and release those feel-good neurochemicals called Endorphins. Exercise is any type of regular body movement that gets your heart rate up. In my opinion, it’s got to be something that you like to do so you’ll keep doing it.
4. Sleep Well — your body needs around 8 hours per night to reboot, relax, sort out, and repair itself. And if your body isn’t in tip-top shape, it won’t be able to best deal with the onslaught of stress and stress chemicals that flood the brain and body. If you have difficulty getting the recommended amount of sleep, see your primary care physician or sleep clinic for help.
5. Hydrate with Water — When stress happens, a flood of chemicals is released in the body. Hydration—or drinking water—helps to flush out excess chemicals, carry nutrients to all parts of the body, and support every organ in the body. Dehydration can not only feel awful, but can lead to serious physical problems and bodily disfunction. Talk to your doctor about how much water to drink per day for your optimal health and stress relief.
These suggestions are just some of the healthy ways to cope with stress that’s a part of every person’s life. If you experience acute or traumatic stress or stress that you can’t cope with, please see your primary care physician or licensed therapist for ongoing or intensive support. Email Lisa Brandi LCSW your questions and comments or to begin your own healing journey.
“Exercise and Depression: Endorphins, Reducing Stress, and More.” WebMD. WebMD, 18 June 0022. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.
“Meditation: An Introduction.” National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.