With all of the demands of life, it’s impossible to avoid stress completely. Students are now pushed to excel more than ever; American workers are typically expected to work longer hours, take fewer vacations, and remain connected 24/7; our social environment can be fraught with landmines about politics and other sensitive topics. The economy may be doing well right now, but we all have bills to pay and are often dealing with additional stressors like medical issues, taking care of children or aging parents, and perhaps even living paycheck to paycheck. The APA warns of the dangers of too much stress:
Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences, affecting the immune, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine and central nervous systems, and take a severe emotional toll. Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression, and obesity.
It seems that in order to take care of our minds, our bodies, our relationships, and our futures, we must do whatever it takes to keep our stress at manageable levels.
Everyone is different when it comes to what relaxes them; baking, running, meditating, television, reading, and innumerable other activities can be stress-relievers. The trick is to actually utilize those stress-relievers when you need them most. You may love to read a good book on a beach during vacation; you may love gardening during the weekend; maybe you go to a yoga class once a week after work. Those are not stressful activities but instead hobbies that relaxes us.
While working on a stressful project, try taking a 10-minute walk to clear your mind. If you’re caring for an infant, use their naptime to do something for yourself, like meditate. When your stressors are getting to be too much to cope with, talk to a friend, family member, or colleague that you know makes you laugh or is a compassionate listener. Don’t wait until you have a full one-hour time slot free to go to the gym; take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from entrances, or do some squats while waiting for dinner to cook.
The APA knows from years of research, that taking breaks, exercise, smiling laughing, leaning on your social support network and meditation are all extremely effective methods of reducing stress - and the effects can last for hours. So, don’t hesitate to utilize these tools whenever you can. Of course, trying to find ample chunks of time to practice these suggestions may itself seem stressful to you. But, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make it to yoga twice a week or take an hour-long run every day. Do what you can when you can, especially during your most stressful of times.
Read more at APA.org.