Stress is a common feature in the lives of many American citizens, whether it is due to our career, financial situation, or family life. Studies show that three out of four Americans experience stress at levels that cause them to experience a range of stress related physical symptoms. Stress can manifest itself in stomach upsets, insomnia, headaches, elevation of blood pressure, changes in appetite and muscle tension and pain. Over half of stress sufferers claim that fatigue is their most frequent symptom.
The third annual Work Stress Survey, published on April 9th 2013 polled more than one thousand Americans, with 8 out of 10 confirming that their work life is a source of significant stress. Poor compensation, unreasonable workloads, and the fear of being laid off were among the top reasons for stress at work, with just 17% of people claiming that their jobs cause them no stress whatsoever. Money, relationships and family commitments were also leading contributors to the stress they feel. This age group, often known as ‘Millenials’, is prone to depression and anxiety as a direct result of stress, and 60% of those who said they experienced extreme stress in the past five years have attempted to seek help for their symptoms without much resolve.
Given these startling statistics, learning how to deal with stress is imperative today. Learning how to listen and respond to your body’s emotions and the physical signs of stress will increase the immune response, improve moods, sleep and anxiety levels and leave you with over all increased sense of well-being.
There are several tools you can use to lower stress levels at any given moment. When you become aware that you are stressed, no matter your situation or locale, try the following things to instantly bust up your stress levels.
Eat – This is a rather controversial tip, as stress eating has largely become a source of our obesity epidemic. However, there are certain healthy foods that decrease stress levels without giving you extra empty calories. Foods to turn to in moderation when you feel yourself stressing out include dark chocolate (70% or greater), turkey, bananas, citrus fruits, oatmeal, nuts and seeds (including walnuts, almonds, flax, and pumpkin seeds), salmon (and other wild seafood), spinach, and certain herbal teas (chamomile, peppermint, and green tea). These stress-reducing foods work by increasing the serotonin, decreasing cortisol levels, increasing the immune response and decreasing muscle tension. Keep in mind that indulging in unhealthy foods to comfort your stress can be more damaging than good, so if you are going to go to food for comfort keep to the foods mentioned above to bust up stress in a healthy way.
Music – Did you know music can actually change the brainwaves to a more relaxing state? This phenomenon has been studied, and perhaps this is why so many people resonate with music on such a deeper level. Music therapy has been used for decades, so why not try a little for yourself? If you are feeling stressed, turn on some soothing sounds – jazz, new age, soul – and if you are feeling sad, maybe put on some feel good music. Caribbean music is also great for lifting the spirit – try some calypso, latin, folk, salsa or soca and see what it does for your mood. Just remember, if you are already agitated, you want to avoid harsh tunes like metal, hard rock, or certain types of rap genres. They may be counter-productive to your current mood.
Dance – Much like music, dance is the language of the soul. It lubricates the joints, releases endorphins, and loosens the muscles. The best thing about dancing is that you don’t have to be a pro to move your body to music. It may feel unnatural and even contrite to some, but the next time you are feeling a little up tight, put a little tune on and dance like no one is looking… because likely no one is!
Writing – Writing can not only tap into your imagination, but it can also be cathartic. Some choose to write poetry to take the edge off, and other delve into short stories and even novels. Still others may choose to journal or “dump” their feelings on the page never to be looked at again. Whatever your method, take a pen to paper and let the ink flow. Similarly, drawing, sketching, and painting can have the same healing effects. Writing also allows for connection, self-discovery and introspection. Sometimes this type of connection and discovery can lead to solutions to stressful circumstances that leave you feeling empowered and more effective in your life.
Take on a relaxing hobby – Taking on a relaxing hobby like knitting, sewing, gardening, painting, or crossword both stimulates the mind while relaxing it at the same time. The repetition of this kind of activity allows for the mind to go into a trance like meditative state that gives the brain a rest from stressful circumstances. As well, engaging in these activities trains the brain to relax when doing any type of repetitive activity. Other stress-reducing hobbies to engage and relax the brain also include scrapbooking, journal writing, and photography.
Get on the move – Whether it’s a casual stroll in the woods or an intense kickboxing class, getting your body moving is a great way to let off some tension. If you are taking a relaxing walk, it is much like meditation (that comes next), and if you are engaging in intense physical activity, endorphin release will give you a nice euphoric feeling to combat and help you to release the stresses of the day. Exercising also warms and loosens the muscles, lowers cortisol levels and strengthens the immune response and heart. Most of all, engaging in some sort of moderate intensity movement lets you blow off some steam. So pick your activity and just get moving!
Meditating – Meditation comes in many forms and can be done virtually anywhere. Some think that meditation means sitting cross legged on the floor chanting (and sometimes it is), but meditation is really just the process of focusing the mind on a particular thing or activity. This can be as simple as a deep breath or two, to a short prayer, to a short walk in a quiet place. It can also come in the form of repetitive hobby like knitting, painting, or scrapbooking as mentioned earlier. Yoga is a form of movement meditation that lowers the blood pressure, increases flexibility, and improves peace of mind. Listening to music and dance can also be forms of meditation. Sometimes just sitting still in silence clearing the mind is just what you need to reset your day. For a little treat visit this link: for a 6 minute relaxation that can be accessed anytime: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd1V_rPM_9E
Hot baths – There is nothing like soaking in a hot bath to relax the muscles and the mind after a hard day’s work. Add your favorite scented salt and light some candles and turn a little of your favorite music on to add ambience. Bring some music in and let your mind drift away.
Sex – Sex is an often overlooked part of normal & balanced well-being. A great stress reliever, it incorporates a little exercise and hopefully ends with total relaxation. Physiologically, during orgasm males and females experience intense and momentary muscular contractions, which is then followed by relaxation. In women, the hormone oxytocin is often released after sex, which gives the women the urge for physical closeness (also known as the cuddle hormone). There is also a release of endorphins with orgasm, giving a euphoric feeling afterwards.
Laughter – There is scientific truth to back the old adage “laughter is the best medicine”. Laughter actually reduces stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine while enhancing endorphins and other feel good neurotransmitters. It also improves the immune system by increasing the effectiveness of the T cells which help fight infections in the body. Finally, laughter brings focus away from anger, guilt, and sadness and promotes community among even strangers.
Connecting with someone you love – Ever wonder why you usually want to call our best friend or a close family member when you are feeling extremely stressed? The answer is that you are most likely reaching out for emotional connection from that person that you care about. We are social beings by nature and emotional connection is paramount in every aspect of our lives. This is the experience of intimacy of which there are many levels and types. Whether by phone, or in person a soothing voice can dissolve stressful feelings in difficult times. Hugs are a great way to connect with people you have a rapport with at home or at work. Next time a friend or colleague is stressing out, offer them a hug. You might see surprise in their eyes, but underneath (even if they say no), they’ll know you care.
–Dr. Maiysha Clairborne is an American Board Certified Family Physician, Holistic Wellness Consultant, Life Balance and Fulfillment Coach. The founder of Mind Body Spirit Wellness Inc., she has facilitated her clients in achieving and maintaining physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being for nearly a decade.
Dr. Clairborne’s offerings include acupuncture, wellness consulting, life balance & fulfillment coaching, and functional medicine. A seasoned speaker and facilitator, Dr. Clairborne also offers a variety of Mind Body Wellness programs for people all over the world. She thrives on creating extraordinary breakthroughs for individuals and groups through her interactive and results-oriented programs.
Dr. Clairborne is the author of Eat Your Disease Away, which focuses on positive change through balance and nutrition, and she has been featured as a wellness expert on numerous radio and television programs. Some of her features include television programs such as NBC40 Health Update, CW’s Focus Atlanta, Sacramento & Company, and nationally syndicated talk show Daytime TV. Expert article features include the DermaScope Magazine, Disney Family Online, and AOL Black Voices. In her spare time, Dr. Maiysha Clairborne serves on the board of directors for the Georgia Coalition for Domestic Violence, and is a recurring host of online program Intentional Life.
Maiysha Clairborne MD
Email: [email protected]
To learn more about Dr. Clairborne and how she keeps wellness simple, go to http://www.create-your-blueprint.com