Having a heart-pounding, nail-biting, blood-pressure skyrocketing kind of day? Or week? Or past several years? It's time to learn how to reduce stress.
Leaving your high-stress levels unchecked can lead to the following health problems:
Gastrointestinal disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
If IBS and sexual dysfunction don't get your attention, perhaps this sobering statistic will: stress is widely regarded as the number one killer in the U.S.
Heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases are, for the most part, attributed to stress, be it lifelong-lifestyle choices like poor nutrition, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
High-pressure jobs, combative relationships with family and spouses, white-knuckle commutes and financial burdens are also major stressors. Perhaps it's impossible to magically make these stressors disappear, but it's mostly how we deal with stress that will determine our health.
To deal with the bad stressors in life (as well as the good; stress is stress to the body), you'll want to:
Practice breathwork and meditation at least once daily
Engage in moderate-intensity exercise daily
Eat three balanced whole-food meals at regular times daily
Gain a new perspective on the important things in life
Learn to express emotions without acting out on anger
Easier said than done, but if left unchecked, your stress could slowly — or quickly — subtract years from your life.
I'm too busy to meditate. What should I do?
No matter how many kids you have to whip up an omelet for in the morning and whisk away to school, you can always wake up 10 minutes earlier and find a quiet place to focus on slow, meditative breathing. This will calm the mind tremendously.
If it's absolutely impossible to meditate in the morning, make sure you leave some time in the middle of the day, when all the kids are at school. Even if you have a demanding job, say personal assistant for a Fortune 500 executive, go to your car if that's the only place that affords you privacy and focus on slow deep breathing, paying no mind to extraneous thoughts about life's problems.
Evening, before getting in bed is critical to managing stress levels. Don't let the stressors of the day flood your mind and body, possibly leading to a bad night's sleep. Find somewhere quiet with no television or Wi-Fi devices or bright lights to focus on doing nothing but concentrating on slow, full-belly and chest expansion breathing. Thoughts will come into your head but pay no mind to them.
What's the best exercise to combat negative stress?
Many people go to the gym for a workout that gets the stress out of them, but some workouts actually lead to more stress. The popularity of boot-camp style workouts are an example. Sure, they'll whip your butt into great cardiovascular shape, but potentially at the risk of adding more stress.
If you're a "type A" personality focused on financial goal motivations first and foremost in life, you'll want to, besides considering changing your perspective on life, pick an exercise routine that will relax you instead. Moderate yoga (such as Hatha) offers the benefits of focusing on controlling the breath, while simultaneously getting your heart rate up (but not too high) and strengthening muscles and bones.
If you absolutely have to do triathlon-style training, be sure to complement with relaxing and rejuvenating moving-meditation type exercises like Qi Gong or Tai Chi.
Why does stress make my belly ache?
If you've gone the past few decades in life eating much refined carbohydrate, white-flour and sugar-laden foods, you may have a weakened gastrointestinal system. Eating bad foods, including to those that you are sensitive (wheat, soy, corn) can compromise the mucosal barrier in your gut, which is your body's first line of defense against pathogens. Most of your immune system lies within your gut, so eat the wrong foods year after year, and you may end up with more than just a tummy ache.
What can I do to control my anger? My boss is a complete jerk!
Learning to express how you feel without letting your emotions get in the way is as difficult as learning Swahili: difficult, but not impossible. Just getting the basics can be life-transforming.
There are plenty of classes and workshops on Non-Violent Communication (a.k.a. "compassionate communication"), possibly led by facilitators in your area. The major steps to learning how to express your anger include:
Making an observation (My boss yelled at me today)
Stating calmly how the observation makes you feel (It made me feel angry, upset, stressed-out)
Declaring your needs (I have a need for respect and kindness)
Formulating a request (I request of my boss to stop yelling at me and talk to me in a calm tone)
Most negative stress is caused at either the home or workplace. Learning to communicate feelings is indeed like learning a second language, but doing so can extend your life and reduce stress.
Judd Handler is a wellness and lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He can be reached at CoachJudd@gmail.com.