Living in today’s society, it would be rare to find someone who hasn’t experienced stress and its associated feelings of being overwhelmed, anxiety, anger, depression and the sleeplessness, fatigue, gastrointestinal upset, tension headache, muscular tension and invitations to engage in unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking or drinking that stress triggers.
Experts define stress as “a relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his/ her resources and endangering his or her well-being“. In other words, stress comes from thinking that a certain situation puts one’s well-being at risk and the uncertainty of being able to meet the challenge using one’s personal, social, economic or physical resources.
Although it is not always obvious to a person that they are in a stressful situation, there are some warning signs of stress that should alert you and perhaps urge you to seek professional help to reduce stress. Warning signs include: trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking up tired and not well rested, changes in eating patterns, craving sweet/ fatty/ salty (comfort) food, more headaches than usual, short temper or irritability, recurring cold and minor illnesses, muscle ache and tiredness, trouble concentrating, remembering and/ or staying organised.
Everyone interprets the world and its events differently. That is why it is crucial that we try to see the world in a positive way, and that is why a situation that is upsetting and stressful for someone may not bother someone else.
How stress affects your health
A well-known physiological response to stress is the flight-fight-or-freeze response. When you’re in a stressful, threatening situation, your body literally fires up every mechanism it can to keep you alive and well. The flight-fight response is coordinated by the sympathetic division of the nervous system, while the freeze response, by the parasympathetic division. The flight-fight response involves the release of adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) from the adrenal glands. Adrenaline in turn elevates the heart rate and blood pressure (to transfer more blood to the muscles), constricts the blood vessels of the skin (to limit bleeding if wounded), dilates the pupil of the eye (to let in more light and hence improve vision), frees up glucose and fatty acids from body storage units (to make energy available to the muscles, brain, and other tissues) and activates certain immune cells to prepare to defend the body if it is wounded.
Extended response to stress alters the metabolism, contributing to overweight and type 2 diabetes; suppresses the immune system, thereby increasing susceptibility to infections and cancer, weakens bones, impairs memory and worsens depression.
Ways to manage stress
The best ways to manage stress are to replace stressful ways of living with beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that promote joy, peace and mind-body harmony. Having said that, people need challenges to be creative and grow psychologically and spiritually.
The key to limiting stress is living healthfully. By eating properly; stretching and exercising regularly; getting sufficient sleep; not smoking cigarettes; limiting caffeine, alcohol and other drugs; and taking “quite time” to be contemplative, creative and joyful, you establish a strength of mind-body-spirit that can help buffer the twists, turns and pulls of stress.
Besides living healthfully, managing stress also involves coping; efforts to manage a stressful situation regardless of whether those efforts are successful.
Now, for the most important part of the article: a list of five mind-body connection methods to promote health and eliminate stress. Make sure to do some additional research on the methods, or seek the help of a professional, such as a health coach.
This technique uses autosuggestion to establish a balance between the mind and body through changes in the autonomic nervous system. The method has been shown to be effective in relieving anxiety and improving the quality of life in people with chronic medical conditions.
Mediation is a long-standing religious and spiritual practice of focused awareness, trance induction, and relaxation that is increasingly used to promote health and healing. Contrary to what some people think, meditation is not a cult, religion, or giving up control over one’s mind. Meditation is focusing on and noticing what your mind is doing right in this moment without judgement. Quieting the mind is healthy, and meditation is a way to accomplish that.
EFT stands for “emotional freedom technique” and its underlying principle is that all emotions and thoughts are forms of energy; this energy, whether positive or negative, has physical manifestations that affect all functions of the body. EFT is a self-help technique that involves tapping near the end points of “energy meridians” located around the body in order to reduce tension and promote a deeper mind-body connection. It can be done anywhere, at any time, quickly, equipment-free, without any medications or supplements.
4. Image Visualization and Guided Imagery
These techniques involve the systematic practice of creating a detailed mental image of a peaceful and relaxing setting or environment. They can be practices in isolation, but are frequently paired with physical relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation and massage. They offer distraction which serves to redirect people’s attention away from what is stressing them and towards an alternative focus.
5. Progressing muscle relaxation
Finally, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a deep relaxation technique that has been effectively used to control stress and anxiety, relieve insomnia, and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. It is based upon the simple practice of tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time followed by a relaxation phase with release of the tension, often in a specific order, beginning with the lower extremities and ending with the face, abdomen and chest.
In the fast-paced, competitive world we live in, it’s almost impossible not to experience stress and its many physiological and psychological manifestations. When stressed, we generally identify its causes as the hassles, obstacles, time pressures, and other situations that disrupt our feeling of inner harmony. What we often fail to recognise, however, is that we often contribute to our stress by how we think about and respond to what we experience.
It is not always possible to avoid or escape stressful situations. Neither is it generally possible to change others so that they behave in ways we desire. In the face of stress, it would be wise to become mindful of how your thoughts contribute to feeling stressed.
Becoming increasingly aware of how your mind works can help you decrease the time your mind swirls around in the throes of stress.