“I am so stressed out!” This was the most common phase that I heard from my peps these days. Increasingly I find that more people I know are dealing with more stress in their daily life. Stress is everywhere and impacting just about everyone. We are being stressed to the limit in this fast moving and constantly changing world.
The bad news around the world is not doing anything to help us feel any better. Just tune into CNN, BBC or Bloomberg and all we hear is natural disasters, human tragedies, political instability, economic gloominess and just plain stupid stuffs that happening around our world adding more stress and worries to our minds.
Stress has become a common state of minds for us to the point that 79% of American and 73% of Canadian reported having some level of stress in their day. Jesus! Almost 8 out 10 people are experience stress at any given time in North America? How did we get here? How has stress crept into our daily lives to this point? How can we function effectively if we are under so much stress?
Now, before I stress you out this stressful talk, you should know that not all stress is bad. If we are still living in caves or running away from a dangerous situation, a stress response can be life-saving because nerve chemicals and hormones released during stressful situations will prepare your body to get into the fight-or-flight mode. According to a NIH study, short term stress can boost your immune system because stress triggers your breathing faster, increase pulse rate, tensed muscles and the brain will use more oxygen. But the key word is: short term. Like everything else, it is about moderation and balance. When you have too much stress is when things can turn really bad quickly.
You know that I experienced a lot of stress due to having a nightmare Panda boss. I was so stressed out that I ended up with a mild depression state. Looking back, I don’t even know why I put up with it for so long. Well, this one was a life lesson learned! It woke me up and got me to re-evaluate my life and what are the important things to me. Since my near breakdown, I have done a lot of research on the topic of stress and how to manage it. Check out my post on 10 common signs and indicators of stress. When you experience these signs and symptoms, I highly encourage you to talk to someone you trust or a healthcare professional who can help you deal with it immediately. Don’t wait.
Does stress impact your body and mind?
The answer is a big YES. If you experience chronic stress, the same chemicals produced to prepare your body to response keep going for longer periods of time and can seriously harm your body functions and prevent them from functioning as they should. Chronic stress can lead to sleep and digestive issues, headaches and body aches, depression and irritability. In serious cases, stress can cause: heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety disorder.
The American Psychological Association links that chronic stress to six leading causes of death which are heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. So, it is extremely important for all of us to take steps to manage our stress level effectively and ensure our body is functioning as it should.
Why is stress so bad for you?
The answer is cortisol. Remember this name because it should be public health enemy number one. As I mentioned in my previous post, cortisol is released in response to fear or stress as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. The fight-or-flight mechanism is part of the general adaptation syndrome defined by Canadian biochemist Hans Selye of McGill University in Montreal. Yep, a Canadian did it! He defined two types of “stress”: eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress).
The kicker is both good and bad stress release cortisol as part of the general adaptation syndrome. Once the alarm to release cortisol has sounded, your body becomes mobilized and ready for action — but there has to be a physical release of fight or flight. Now do you see it? If there is a guy with a gun runs toward you, the good stress (eustress) is a life saver that will get your two legs running fast. Eustress creates a “seize-the-day” heightened state of arousal, which is linked with a tangible goal. Your cortisol level will return to normal when the task is done. For instance, you get away from danger, the crazy guy with a gun.
On the flip side, distress, or anxiety that doesn’t provide an outlet for the cortisol will causes your fight-or-flight mechanism to backfire and bite you back big time. All those build up cortisol that has nowhere to go but storing in your body will wreak havoc on your mind and body. The irony is not lost on me. Our own biology which insured our species’ survival as cave men and woman is sabotaging our bodies and minds in a sedentary digital age. What can we do to defuse the cortisol ticking time bomb?
How can you reduce and better manage stress?
Luckily, you can make simple lifestyle choices that will reduce stress. I don’t mean to scare you but I can’t stretch enough the important of stress management. This is one time that you will see me get really serious. Living through depression was one of the toughest experiences for me, and I don’t wish that for anyone. I have done a lot of research in addition to getting professional advices on stress management. Here are the 7 ways I have used to reduce and manage my stress.
There are many studies that show the benefits of meditation. Personally, I like this one from Harvard Health. My therapist/life coach told me that a mind under stress or depression would be like someone walking around in a fog, and meditation is a great tool to clear the fog from our mind. To begin to meditate:
- Sit in a comfortable position or lay on your back
- Close your eye
- Take in deep breathes
- Focus our mind on your breath, imagine the path the breath is taking in your body. Your stomach rise and decreases.
- Be present in the moment and ignore the thousands of thoughts flying buzzing around in your crowded minds. Your thoughts will still be there. Just acknowledged them and refocus on the present.
Meditation allows your mind and body to relax and bringing it back to the present. I have been practicing meditation for months to heal my mind, get back to being healthy and happy again.
What? I breathe every second, so what kind of breathing are you talking about? I am talking about intentional breathing which few studies show to greatly reduce stress. It is a mini meditation for me. When I was stressed out (which was a normal state when I worked for the Devil wears Panda boss) I would stop for 10 seconds to take 3 deep breathes, then I focused my mind on my breaths bringing it back to the present and cleared out of the fog.
Karen has a “breath when the marker drops” rule. It was a method that she learns from a leadership emotional intelligent program. When she senses that she drops her maker (it is a term that she uses to describe the state of mind when her stress level rises and her heart beats faster) because work stress or irritants, she will start breath slowly ten times, puts on her pre-recorded 5 minutes mediation and walks outside for 5 minutes. Cortisol takes approximately 18 minutes to clear from our body, so by the time she completes all these tasks, the cortisol level will normalize in her body and she can make the right decision with the right mindset.
Try it out when you feel that the walls are closing in around you and your heart start to race. Remember to breathe!
B e with people who you love
I will never admit this out loud but when I was at my lowest point, my family and well…the little monster niece (shush! don’t tell them that) was what kept me going and getting better. A study on Social Relationship and Mortality Risk show that those had strong social support were at 50% lower risk of mortality than those who were isolated and without social support. If you have someone that you can call on to just have a ‘bitch fest’ to take your minds off the stressful thinking. Call that person. Go for a walk or coffee or just talk! It is very emotionally effective (thanks Karen!).
Many studies (too many for me to quote) demonstrated the benefits of exercise to reduce stress. Wait! Before you hit the treadmill at the gym, remember that you don’t need to go there to exercise. Read my post on a home gym. Yes, my $4 dumbbells are still the best investment ever and mini-me is always willing to wrestle with me.
Physically, when you exercise (in whatever method of your liking), your body is active and it will start to pump up endorphins. Endorphin is known as: the feel-good hormone which improves your moods. Not kidding. This is true. Look it up! More than the physical boost, able to exercise is also an ego boost for you when you are at the low point because you show that you can achieve something! You get something done! Check mark. So, whenever you feel sad and at a low point, put on a pair of comfy shoe and go for a walk. Preferably, with your pet or a companion who can give you some cheers. Mini-me and Karen, where are you guys?
Hobbies is a one of my big stress relievers. I am a cross-stitcher. There I admit it. Karen still can’t understand why I like cross-stitching because it seems so pain staking to her. Well, she plays Candy Crush, paints with mini-me and reads for stress relief. Each to their own. But for me, I will reach for my cross-stitching basket when I feel my shoulder and neck starts to tighten (in case you’re wondering this is my favourite cross stitch designer).
When I cross-stitched, my mind focused solely on the needle, threads and patterns so all the negative thoughts buzzing in my mind just went blank for those time. Karen hung all of my finished works in the house, so I am quite an accomplished cross-stitching woman. So, I encourage you to pick up the shovel, brush, pencil to work on your garden, paint or draw when you feel that your mind is in a fog. #merelaxingtime! Your mind needs the rest and healing.
Yes, laughter is the best medication. Whether it is a Will & Grace, Friends or Gilmore Girls binge watching weekend with my bestie Karen or Korean variety (1 night & 2 days is my favourite) laughter was an almost instant relief that helped me heal.
When you laugh, your body starts to release endorphins (the happy hormone) which will then reduce the stress response, relax muscle which soothe the tension in your body. Laughter can also improve your immune system and mood. So, when you feel down, find things that can crack you up with a hearty laugh. If it is not Korea oddities and over the top variety shows, perhaps the funny pair of Joe and Chandler can crack you up.
Keep a gratitude journal
Seriously? I am not twelve anymore and you ask me to keep a gratitude journal? What is that anyway? I was very skeptical when my therapist asked me to do this. According to her, a gratitude journal is nothing more than a log or journal of things that you are thankful for. The git of it is to motivate you.
When you are down and full of negative thoughts and emotions, it is important to remind yourself of the positive things in your life to counter the negativities. By keeping a journal, you are having a visual reminder of what you are living for. In addition, the journal acts as a force to keep your mind away from thousands of negative thoughts and brings your clear mind back to the present (another form of meditation?) looking at good things that happening now.
So now, I consistently write down two things that I am thankful for each day. Example: I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for black sesame bingsu (Korea shaved ice). It is not a joke. Bingsu is on my list and it is heavenly desert. The Korean Gods listen to me and they gave me this delicious desert.
Other methods from friends
These are my 7 tried and true stress management methods. My friends and life coach also recommended other methods that have worked for them. Give these a try if you could. It bounds to be good for your mind and body.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. I am all for this one. A healthy body will help your mind to heal faster.
- Let go of problems that you cannot fix. This one is easy said than done. I learn to appreciate this principle. For a long time, I hung on to my job thinking that I could make the Devil wear Panda boss to change her attitude. And also, I hate losing and quitting. But after all this, I have realized that it is even more important to know when to let go. So prioritize things in your life and let go of things that you can’t change. It is not worth your health and time.
- Schedule time for yourself to relax. Karen, this one is for you!
- Consider yoga. Love this one!
- Spend some time outdoors for a change of scenery. I am good with this too. Love the outdoor!
Lastly, I want to say that stress is difficult to deal with physically and emotionally. But the cost of stress is too great for us to ignore it. With the increasing demand of work (no, there is really no work-life balance in corporate environment. Sorry for being the bearer of bad news!), more people are under constant stress.
It is important to know the stress symptoms that your body, mind and behaviour exhibit and so you can act to manage your stress right away. Don’t wait! Don’t try to tough it out liked I did because you would likely reach a breaking point. Deal with your stress and emotions before it get out of hand. There are 7 ways that I have been using to manage stress and finding happiness. Try them out or find ones that really work well for you. Whatever that stress relief is, I hope you find it and use it.
As my little endearing and wise beyond her age, niece said: “I am the boss of my body. I want to be healthy.” Yes, you are the boss of your beautiful body, mind and soul, so take good care of it. Life is too darn short and precious to be stressed out because of someone else’s malice intention, job, status, wants and whatever else. You only live once, so live happily and purposefully! I wish you a happy and stress-free ever after!
As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts and experience. By sharing your experience, you may be able to help someone else to overcome their challenges, so please do!