People under chronic stress experience a weakening of their adrenal response which affects all aspects of their well-being. When the adrenals do not respond, the body has a hard time coping with stress and, if this inability to cope deepens, the body may eventually feel like giving up. Depression and a weakened immune system can lead to serious illness or even death. This how stress kills and why it is so important to treat stress like any other ailment and take steps to manage it with effective stress reduction techniques.
There are a variety of ways to de-stress on a daily basis and improve one’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health. One popular method, called mindfulness, is taught to people with high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, and chronic pain to help them cope with external stressors by getting back in touch with their internal senses. Mindfulness exercises begin with slow, deep breaths followed by progressive relaxation starting at the right fist, moving up the right arm and proceeding to all major muscle groups in the body. The methodical, conscious clenching then slow release of tension in each part of the body reduces stress by making a person aware of where they are physically storing their frustrations and slowing letting go of it through positive imagery and deep breathing. Mindfulness exercises relieve anxiety by reconnecting the person with the present moment, the only moment they can control and fully experience. It is effective enough to be used by therapists to treat serious psychiatric disorders including suicidal ideations and substance abuse.
In addition to mindfulness, a stressed out person can unwind by incorporating the habits of highly relaxed people in their life. These habits are:
- Exercise. Regular physical activity, particularly vigorous activity, produces endorphins which are the body’s natural happy pill. Going for a brisk walk or an ad hoc game of pick up is a tried-test-and-true way to relieve mental tension.
- Get good sleep. You may be in bed for eight to ten hours a night but sleep disruptions including a noisy neighbor, a wakeful child or snoring spouse may be preventing your body from getting the revitalizing rest it needs. Deep, solid sleep allows tense muscles to fully relax and recharge. Your psyche also needs deep, dream cycle sleep to cope with life’s dramas.
- Freedom of expression. Emotions need regular venting so they don’t build into walls of stress, pain and illness. Find creative ways to express your feelings through art, music, drama or writing if simply talking about it is difficult for you.
- Experience love and satisfying sex. Finding and accepting an understanding partner in life that will offer comfort, advice or just a warm hug when you need it most is a major stress reducer. Sensual bodywork and therapeutic touch leading to meaningful intimacy is also extremely effective as taking the edge off.
- Eat wholesome foods. Processed foods that are high in sugar, sodium, fat and chemical additives can irritate the digestive system, cause unwanted weight gain, and hormonal imbalances – all of which are vexing to the mind and body. Enjoying a diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean meats provides your body with the nutrients it needs to cope with whatever life throws at it.
Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson M. Haas. Chapter 16, pages 604 -609.