First, take a deep breath, pause, then exhale. Repeat … deep breath, pause, and then release the air. There! You’ve already mastered an important step on your path to wellness. You have learned an effective calming practice to help resist stress.
Some individuals get too far into the mindset that “stress is just part of life” or “it’s tough at the top.” Yes, stress is part of life but not just a part to be endured. Stress is not managed by stopping it or denying its existence but rather through coping with it in healthy ways. An easy way to do this is by trying our Zen blend in a personal aromatherapy diffuser to help you feel more at peace. Additionally, stress levels can be reduced when you take the time to sort out what you are truly working for.
Your wellness is deeply affected when you endure continuous stress which can rob you of sleep, make you short-tempered, and negatively affect your ability to focus and learn. The reason behind these effects is that stress causes the release of hormones in the body, intended for short-term action. When these hormones flow through the body for prolonged periods of time they wreak havoc on health.
In addition to some of the negative effects described above, chronic stress can also cause depression, frustration, anger, poor eating habits, and impaired judgment. In other words, excess, unmanaged stress levels mess with your body, mind, and perhaps even your spirit.
What Exactly Is Stress?
In the dictionary, stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” 1
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There was a time when facing “adverse or very demanding circumstances” was unusual, but in today’s world, it can be a daily occurrence. As mentioned above, stress causes responses in the body—physically and emotionally. It puts the body’s nervous system into fight-or-flight mode.
During this stress response, your body cranks out stress hormones. These hormones—adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine, and others—target different body systems to allow your body to effectively respond to a short-term stressor/danger and result in the following physiological changes:
- Heightened senses
- Increased awareness
- Elevated heart rate
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Tightened muscles and increased blood flow
- Digestion is suspended
Once the stressor passes, your body should begin the “rest and digest” response where:
- Breathing becomes deeper and slower
- Heart rate and blood pressure return to normal
- Muscles relax
- Digestion is resumed
This is how the system is designed to work: your body briefly experiences a stressor and only needs to remain in this high-energy state for a brief period of time before continuing to function as normal. However, in the modern world, there’s not much of a “rest and digest” response.
Many individuals just remain in some sort of “fight-or-flight” because the stressors never seem to end. The body continues to pump out stress hormones intended only to be in body short-term and burned up by high activity. So, the body is ready for fight-or-flight but there’s no fighting or fleeing—this is bound to have consequences.
The result is that your body stays in a stress response mode for weeks, months, or even years, causing a significant range of health issues. Long-term exposure to stress hormones can cause:
- Digestive issues
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment2
What Should You Do About Your Stress Levels?
Learning to relax is the standard solution to stress. Deep breathing is a handy and effective tool to help your body find its way back to the “rest and digest” state. Learning and practicing meditation practices can also change your body and mind’s reaction to stress. Remember: meditation doesn’t mean sitting still and emptying your mind as you might think. Rather, it’s more about focusing on the moment and realizing that at that moment you are fine. Using this awareness can help calm you further.
Even once you master some of these calming practices, stress will still feel incessant. Let’s explore an exercise that might help you resolve stress at another level. This practice helps you clarify your focus in life to understand what is important to you and what is not.
Take a piece of paper and draw a line from the top to the bottom, dividing the page into two columns. The column on the left is your first list and the column on the right is your second.
In the first list, write down the things you value most in life. Include the parts of your life that you are most passionate about and the strengths or passions that make you unique. Also, list the activities you may have dreamed about doing since you were a child or projects you value that will help make the world a better place.
Then, in the second list, write the items currently on the top of your to-do list. Write down your hottest priorities: the tasks that wake you up at 2 a.m. and the activities that take up most of your waking hours. In this list, include what you worry about most.
Now, sit back and think about which list gets most of your energy and time. Do you put more time and attention into those tasks you truly value or is it work pressures or worries that takes more of your energy? Which list is most important to you
Most importantly, which list includes the elements that you wish to be identified with, recognized as being a part of, or would love to be part of the legacy you leave?
As you study your lists, it won’t take very long for you to begin to see that your life might be out of balance and that the factors that mean the most to you may not be clear focal points in your daily life. This is not a unique situation in today’s society.
While it is true that today’s world requires individuals to work hard to earn money to afford food, housing, medical care, and transportation, for many, getting those basics covered isn’t as great of a challenge. However, those individuals still want much more than the basics, so they work harder and longer for a higher standard of living, a better neighborhood—essentially, for more material possessions.
What Is Truly Important to You?
Your stress levels will decrease as you find yourself putting your energy into tasks that are deeply meaningful to you. Take the time write up your own two lists. Consider making this list writing a family project. Perhaps it’s more important for your partner or your children to spend more time with you, to travel together, to play, and to experience life together than it is to live in the exclusive neighborhood and drive the expensive car.
Once you can embrace a life that brings you deeper satisfaction and fulfillment, your experience of stress will become very different. In a more balanced life, stress becomes a much more friendly encourager that just stops by when you need a boost towards your next important goal.
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