Stress busting strategies

Weird things happen when your mind is stressed out. Recently, “neuroscientists have shown that stress .. shifts the brain into a reward-seeking state. You end up craving whatever substance or activity your brain associates with the promise of a reward, and you become convinced that the ‘reward’ is the only way to feel better. In other words, whenever you feel stressed out, your mind craves “quick fixes” – the treat table across the hall, the temptation to go shopping after work. It’s true that modern life creates a ton of stress, but it’s also true that what stresses out one person may just roll off the back of another. So it is partly what happens to us, but mostly our reaction to it.

Each of us has a responsibility as a parent to manage our own stress. After all, do you want your kids to have the best of you – or what’s left of you? Stress comes from many areas of life, and stress relief comes in many forms. While some people like using one favorite tool for stress relief, many experts feel that the most efficient approach to stress relief is one that attacks stress from several different directions, utilizing an overall ‘plan of attack’ for stress relief. An important first step in this stress relief plan is to have one or two quick stress relief strategies that can help you relax your physiology or de-stress your mind, to reverse your body’s stress response so that you can think clearly and avoid the negative effects of chronic stress.

Signs of stress

Stress can affect how you feel emotionally, mentally and physically, as well as how you behave. Some common signs of bad stress are:

  • Anger, irritability, hostility
  • Fatigue, lethargy, mental slowdown
  • Lack of interest, drive, or energy
  • Sleep disorders – insomnia, daytime sleepiness, broken sleep
  • Headache, body aches, muscle tension
  • Tummy upset, eating disorders, weight gain or loss.

Science of stress

Stress is body’s preparation to a danger that needs an immediate change in our behavior and physiology. In 1926, Hans Selye, called the Father of Stress, coined the term “stress” while he was still a second year medical student at the University of Prague. Later, in 1974, he defined stress as “non-specific response of the body to any demand.” Stress is our “fight or flight” response system — so that either we fight or we escape. It lights up when we perceive something as a threat to our survival.

The threat is called a stressor. Now, a stressor can be real or imagined. But our stress system acts the same way: it jolts our nervous and hormonal systems into action to get us ready for that danger. In brain, the main parts playing role in setting up a stress response are amygdala, hypothalamus, pituitary, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, with the help from the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. And the prime-time hormones that feature in this fray are CRF, ACTH, adrenaline, vasopressin and cortisol. Before stress happens, and after stress ends, the body is in homeostasis (a steady internal state). It is our body’s natural reaction that we cannot sidestep. Stress in itself is not a disease. And not all stress has negative effect.

Stress at work

 Stress is everywhere, most of all at work. And even though it happens at work, you carry it around to all places. Worldwide, at least 30 percent people feel their work is “very or extremely stressful.” An unforeseen number of Americans are stressed out at work, ranging between 83 to 91 percent, as a 2013 survey reports. The Center for Disease Control found that 66 percent of American workers lie awake at night troubled by stress. At least 35 percent of British workers feel “unreasonable levels of stress,” according to a 2012 study. In Japan, there is an official term called karōshi, which translates as ‘death due to overwork’. A large number of Japanese workers are dying at their work-tables due to years of accumulated stress. In India, about 500,000 become ill per year due to job-related tensions.

3 ways to manage stress

A three pronged approach works best:

  • Pare down the stressors in your life.
  • Keep your cup full so that you have more internal resources to deal with the curve balls that life inevitably throws at you.
  • Retrain your attitude so you notice as you slip into stress-mode and can make the choice to shift gears.

15 stress busting strategies

1. Recognize when you are stressed

It might seem obvious that you’d know when you’re stressed, but many of us spend so much time in a frazzled state that we’ve forgotten what it feels like when our nervous systems are in balance—when we’re calm yet still alert and focused. If this is you, you can recognize when you’re stressed by listening to your body. When you’re tired, your eyes feel heavy and you might rest your head on your hand. When you’re happy, you laugh easily. And when you’re stressed, your body lets you know that, too. Get in the habit of paying attention to your body’s clues.

Observe your muscles and insides. Are your muscles tense or sore? Is your stomach tight, cramped, or aching? Are your hands or jaw clenched?

Observe your breath. Is your breathing shallow? Place one hand on your belly, the other on your chest. Watch your hands rise and fall with each breath. Notice when you breathe fully or when you “forget” to breathe.

2. Identify your stress response

Internally, we all respond to the “fight-or-flight” stress response the same: your blood pressure rises, your heart pumps faster, and your muscles constrict. Your body works hard and drains your immune system. Externally, however, people respond to stress in different ways.

The best way to quickly relieve stress often relates to your specific stress response:

Overexcited stress response – If you tend to become angry, agitated, overly emotional, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down.

Under excited stress response – If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and energizing.

3. Bring your senses to rescue when in stress

To use your senses to quickly relieve stress, you first need to identify the sensory experiences that work best for you. This can require some experimentation. As you employ different senses, note how quickly your stress levels drop. And be as precise as possible. What is the specific kind of sound or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if you’re a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find the song that instantly lifts and relaxes you.

Explore a variety of sensory experiences so that no matter where you are you’ll always have something you can do to relieve stress.

The examples listed below are intended to be a jumping-off point. Let your mind run free and come up with additional things to try. When you find the right sensory technique, you’ll know it!

Sight

  • Look at a cherished photo or a favorite memento.
  • Use a plant or flowers to enliven your work space.
  • Enjoy the beauty of nature—a garden, the beach, a park, or your own backyard.
  • Surround yourself with colors that lift your spirits.
  • Close your eyes and picture a place that feels peaceful and rejuvenating.

Smell

  • Light a scented candle or burn some incense.
  • Experiment with different essential oils.
  • Smell the roses—or another type of flower.
  • Enjoy clean, fresh air in the great outdoors.
  • Spritz on your favorite perfume or cologne.

Touch

  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • Pet a dog or cat.
  • Hold a comforting object (a stuffed animal, a favorite memento).
  • Give yourself a hand or neck massage.
  • Wear clothing that feels soft against your skin.

Taste

Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless eating will only add to your stress and your waistline. The key is to indulge your sense of taste mindfully and in moderation.

  • Chew a piece of sugarless gum.
  • Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate.
  • Sip a steaming cup of coffee or tea or a refreshing cold drink.
  • Eat a perfectly ripe piece of fruit.
  • Enjoy a healthy, crunchy snack (celery, carrots, or trail mix).

Movement

If you tend to shut down when you’re under stress or have experienced trauma, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful.

  • Run in place or jump up and down.
  • Dance around.
  • Stretch or roll your head in circles.
  • Go for a short walk.
  • Squeeze a rubbery stress ball.

Sound

  • Sing or hum a favorite tune. Listen to uplifting music.
  • Tune in to the soundtrack of nature—crashing waves, the wind rustling the trees, birds singing.
  • Buy a small fountain, so you can enjoy the soothing sound of running water in your home or office.
  • Hang wind chimes near an open window.

4. Exercise or play sports to release stress

Exercise and physical activity not only tell your body to release stress-battling hormones, but both practices have a ton of other benefits too, like allowing you to procrastinate less, focus more, and act more disciplined. It has consistently been shown to be one of the most effective activities to reduce stress, and it’s also the thing on this list that people put off the most. If you’re serious about relieving stress, you should not overlook how effective exercise is at calming you down. Moreover, the practice not only reduces stress in the short-term. Research has shown that exercise actually “reorganizes the brain to be more resilient to stress” in the long run.

5. Breathing exercises for stress

Stress relief breathing is one of the most popular ways of calming down quickly for good reason: breathing exercises can be done by anyone, at any time, with little training, and at no expense! Breathing exercises can also be combined with other stress relief techniques (such as guided imagery or meditation) for added benefits and ease of use. Learn more about breathing exercises and learn a quick stress relief breathing techniques.

6. Prepare your schedule to release stress

Much of the stress we feel comes from routinely over-scheduling. But that’s a choice we make. We think it’s helpful to squeeze more in, but it always costs us. Kids thrive on connection, so when we get too busy to just hang out and connect with them, they act out. Prioritize your kids and your relationship. Then drop anything else you can. Your house can stay a mess a little longer. Serve scrambled eggs and raw carrots for dinner. (Yes, that is nutritionally fine.) Your children need you in a good mood much more than they need you to cook.

7. Having a good laugh is essential for a stressed person

Maintaining a sense of humor can relieve stress in several ways. First, there are specific benefits that you get from laughter that can help you relieve stress and even stay healthier in your life. Also, laughter connects people, and social support is good for stress relief. More, it’s hard to stay stressed when you’re laughing. And maintaining a sense of humor reminds us that our stressors may not be as menacing as they seem, and probably have solutions, too. For these reasons, laughing in the face of stress can help you feel better in a matter of minutes. Learn more about the benefits of laughter and how to maintain a sense of humor in the face of stress.

8. Go for a massage

I personally can’t think of anything more relaxing than a massage. “Clinical studies show that even a single 1.5-hour session can significantly lower heart rate, cortisol levels and insulin levels-all of which help reduce stress.Take a tour of the nearest spa or salon for a strong head or full body massage. It releases a lot of stress and maintains peace in between your mind, heart and stress.

9. Search for support from closed ones when stressed

Parenting is the hardest job there is. We ALL need support, someone we can vent to who won’t judge us or try to fix us. If you need more of that kind of support in your life, find other parents with whom you feel comfortable and start building new friendships. Listen to parenting audios that soothe and inspire you. Find yourself a parenting coach with whom you can check in occasionally. Even the simple act of writing in a journal has been proven to be an effective way of supporting ourselves and coming to peace with things that bother us.

10. Derive spirit in your life

This can mean a higher power, but it doesn’t have to. Just step away from the distractions and find the quiet that inspires you to connect with your deepest wisdom. For some of us, it’s as simple as a walk in the woods or gazing at the stars. Your kids benefit from quiet time in nature too. We all need to reconnect regularly with the miracles that make life worth living.

Empathize with people who you think are causing you stress. Remember, everyone is fighting their own battles. When you see them with compassion, you no longer believe they are stressing you out. Rather, you find they are doing their best to relieve their own stress. Empathy takes the stress out of a confrontation. Empathy produces oxytocin, “the love hormone.” Psychologist Arthur Ciaramicoli in his book The Stress Solutionargues that empathic listening may be the key to reducing stress in our lives. He says, “Empathy means seeing human beings as always changing and evolving; so you don’t want to judge and shut the person down.”Remember, change begins with you. Change your paradigms. Your paradigms are the “lenses” through which you see the world. Start the change in you by treating others with more empathy.