How to combat stress. This post is born out of a couple of conversations I have had over the last few weeks. It appears everyone is highly stressed at the moment. Life is beginning to take on a different pace again and whereas this is new and exciting it can also feel overwhelming. And let’s face it – there are only so many “spa days” or elongated massages one can afford – both from a monetary and time perspective.
So whereas I am truly aware that we discuss stress often – in various scenarios across the blog there is not a dedicated post to it. So today, I wanted to lay out to you what stress does to our bodies and the potential harm it can cause for awareness 😉) and also give you easy, tangible tips and tricks on how you can calm your sympathetic nervous system down. Nothing fancy here – just easy day-to-day strategies that require little effort but will hopefully bring a lot more joy to your everyday 🙏🏻.
What is Stress?
Mind.org.uk defines stress as “how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control.” As appears to be a thing with everything in life, a small amount of stress is not harmful to our bodies in general. In fact, it may even fuel us to complete tasks quicker and on time. Where it becomes a problem though is when we are becoming chronically stressed.
I want to point out an important factor here though. It does not matter how much stress you objectively have. You might have one appointment a day it can already cause you too much stress. Stress is how a situation is perceived. So if you are stressed because of said one appointment but the person next to you has ten and does not feel that way, you will feel the symptoms of stress and you may even experience it constantly. Stress is very much caused in our minds.
Chronic Stress has a lingering impact on our bodies
Chronic stress or pressure also has a lingering impact on the body. The first things we usually notice are tenseness in our muscles (particularly the upper back and shoulders). Your body pumps blood and glucose a lot faster through your veins when stressed. A constantly increased blood pressure means our body is working a lot harder for us than it would need to usually and this can increase both your risk of heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, cortisol is released in buckets when we are stressed. Whereas during a “fight and flight” mode situation this is beneficial to our bodies as it triggers the right “mechanisms” for said fight or flight, a constant elevated level of cortisol in our bodies produces a disconnect in our communication pathways.
This has an impact on our immune system (lowered), it causes inflammation in our bodies (higher). It means we have a lot more free radicals and oxidative stress cursing around our bodies. You are also likely sleeping less and it can impact our digestive system. Our digestive system needs calm and relaxation in order to digest the food and its nutrients from it. This cannot happen if we are chronically stressed. Stress may also change the bacteria composition in our gut, which in turn can lead to feelings of both anxiety and depression. As you can see, it is a bit of a vicious cycle.
How to Combat Stress
Now that I have provided you with the basics, let us dive into some tangible tricks and strategies how you can reduce stress fast. These tips are also easily accessible.
I have spoken about this before, but this is a truly quick way to calm your nervous system: Think kindly. See what we perceive in the brain and think actually correlates directly within our bodies and can have an impact on physical symptoms. When we think kindly we produce oxytocin (our happy hormone), which also reduces our blood pressure and anxiety levels, and acts anti-inflammatory. All of these are markers that we want to see coming down as they are so elevated from our stress. If you are struggling with a situation or feeling stressed, think kindly of a loved one or – I mean truly my animals always bring me a smile 🥰.
I know I go on and on about breathwork and meditation. I have personally seen amazing health benefits from it and I cannot recommend it enough. Mediation helps with both improving your immune system and lowering your blood pressure from a physical standpoint. But it may also increase productivity, as well as creative thinking. The benefits are almost immediate and they do not require a lot of time. 5 to 10 minutes is already enough. If you are feeling stressed, I usually put my feet on the earth and breath in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 1 for 90 seconds. 90 seconds and I can tell after that my nervous system has already calmed down significantly.
Nature is one of the best ways to decompress and relax. It is wired into us to relax our bodies and minds. It equals calmness in our bodies which gets achieved almost immediately. Even though we have evolved, so much of our genetic makeup has not changed and is still exactly as it was from our ancestors. That is why our sleep is linked to a circadian rhythm and why we tend to wake up with the sun and go to bed with the sun setting. Nature used to be an area of calm for us. Studies have shown that the benefits of nature can already achieved just by looking at a plant. Put more plants into your home and have a look at them from time to time if you do not have the time to go out.
If you are simply working, taking care of your kids, animals, and friends, and never doing anything that you enjoy, it can quickly feel overwhelming. Personally, I have a “happiness list”. 10 things that bring me total joy that I can easily integrate into my every day. That way, I make sure I feel fulfilled and have fun. The more time spent being happy, joyful, and having fun the less room there is to feel stressed.
My list is super simple and includes things such as reading, five minutes with a coffee, being in nature, working on the blog, or jamming out to a song. I also love listening to podcasts. None of these points are life-changing. But, for me, that is not the point (🤪). The beauty of living can be found in the everyday. We do not have to wait around for that one big holiday or event two months in advance in order to feel happy. We can (and should!!) find joy every day.
I hope this post has brought you some perspective and some tangible strategies for how you can combat stress. If you want to read more be sure to also check out my posts on The Mind-Body Connection and The Benefits of Kindness. Do you have any awesome tips or tricks on how you manage stress? If you, please share in the comments below.