If the pandemic brought us anything, it’s an understanding that we can learn from the challenging experiences of stress. One of the greatest revelations comes from a ground-breaking psychologist who says undergoing stress is not bad for you; it’s undergoing stress while believing that stress is bad for you that makes it harmful. Stress is more than a feeling; it can wreak havoc on your body, causing insomnia, heart disease – even strokes. So, while it’s unrealistic to think that we can rid our lives of stress, we can get better at handling it.
On the positive side, a psychiatrist at Mount Sinai in New York reports that exposure to stressful situations can also change your body’s biological response to it. Your stress hormones become less responsive, allowing you to better handle stress when it comes.
Think of the everyday stressors as a rehearsal for dealing with the REALLY BIG stressful events in your life: a cancer diagnosis, divorce, loss of love one, a family member’s addiction, losing your home to a fire or storm.
To train for stress, push yourself out of your comfort zone.
• Say “yes’ to making a presentation to an audience.
• Sing karaoke.
• Take on a tough project at work.
• Help someone with a debilitating illness.
Advice for Parents
Exposing children to “degrees of anxiety” like hiking in remote areas, kayaking and public speaking can help prepare them to deal with stressful situations down the road.
You Feel What You Eat
Not only does stress change our eating patterns, (most of the time for the worst) but it raises the body’s metabolic needs and increases the use of many nutrients.
To armor your body against stress, incorporate the following diet changes:
-Avoid processed and sugary foods. Researchers found that people with diets high in processed fats had a 58% higher risk of depression than those who ate whole foods.
-Enhance your levels of serotonin, the mood-boosting hormone, by eating salmon, nuts, pineapple, tofu, soy, eggs, milk, and cheese.
-Don’t use alcohol as a calming agent.
-Reduce caffeine consumption.
-Include foods with vitamins B, C and magnesium.
-Keep your blood sugar levels and metabolism stable by eating small portions and often throughout the day, starting with a filling breakfast.
Grab a Knitting Needle
Olympic gold-medal diver Tom Daley, actors Russell Crowe and Sarah Jessica Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Randy Grossman, and singer Demi Lovato, all know the healing power of knitting.
Research has shown it has measurable positive effects on calming anxiety and relieving stress, while giving the hands something useful to do. Further the acting of knitting – as well socializing with a group of knitters – has been proven to reduce the feeling of chronic pain and anxiety (in one study for a group suffering from eating disorders).
Bottom line: Exercise pumps up your endorphins, your brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters. So walk, kayak, hiking, swim, do yoga or Pilates. Just move!
Breathe In….Breathe Out
Mindful breathing is the easiest stress reducer – and the most underrated. Seems that people don’t believe in its power. When we are under stress, we tend to hold our breath or breathe faster without even realizing it. Mindful, or conscious, breathing is self-healing and can give you immediate results that can be easily measured by heart rate, blood pressure, etc. And, it can be done anywhere and at any time.
While there are several breathing techniques (like box breathing and soft breathing) Deepak Chopra, author and well-known figure of alternative medicine, offers one that restores the vagus nerve, the healing nerve in your body. Try this: Get in a comfortable sitting position. Inhale to the count of four, hold it to the count of two, and then slowly exhale to the count of six. Chopra says doing this brings your breath rate down to 8 from its normal 14.
Count Your Blessings
Here’s another easy, overlooked strategy: being grateful for the “positive” things in your life, from the paycheck you get and the home that provides shelter to the food you eat. Robert Emmons, thought by some to be the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, says being grateful blocks negative, toxic emotions like envy, regret, resentment – even depression. He adds that grateful people recover faster in the aftermath of trauma, if they were previously grateful people.
And no matter how bad the day or stressful the situation, there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for.