Racing against deadlines, sitting in traffic, arguing with your spouse .... There's so much in life that can make your body react as if you were facing a physical threat. This is why chronic stress can make you more vulnerable to life-threatening health problems. Learning ways to manage stress may seem complex, but there are actually simple ways you can take control of stress by avoiding some stressors and limiting the detrimental health effects of others.
Effects of stress on your body
In short, stress is a physical and emotional response to a particular situation.
- Chest pain
- Pounding heart
- High blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches, such as back and neck pain
- Clenched jaws
- Grinding teeth
- Tight, dry throat
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Stomach cramping or bloating
- Increased perspiration, often causing cold, sweaty hands
- Weight gain or loss
- Skin problems such as hives
- Impaired sexual function
8 proven ways to minimize and manage stress and limit its health effects
1. Think positively
Studies indicate that optimism or pessimism may affect your quality of life. Optimism enables you to cope better with stressful situations, likely reducing the effects of stress on your body.
2. Change your emotional response
Managing stress doesn’t mean eliminating stressors from your life. It means developing positive strategies for dealing with stress to avoid negative consequences. Think about stress as your reaction to an event, rather than the event itself. This makes it easier to identify healthy ways of learning how to manage stress. Even though you can’t control some of the stressors in your life, you can control your response to them.
3. Embrace spirituality
Certain tools to reduce stress are tangible, but there is another tool that helps many people manage stress in their lives — embracing spirituality. Exploring your spirituality can lead to a clearer life purpose and better stress management skills.
4. Protect your time
How does your behavior contribute to your stress? Some people find it hard to say no to any requests made on their time. But saying yes to everything comes at a price — more stress and less peace of mind. Learn how to take time for yourself without feeling guilty.
5. Restore work-life balance
Finding work-life balance in today’s frantic world is no simple task. Spend more time at work than at home and you miss out on a rewarding personal life. Then again if you’re facing challenges in your personal life such as caring for an aging parent or coping with marital or financial problems, concentrating on your job can be difficult.
Whether the problem is too much focus on work or too little, when your work life and personal life feel out of balance, stress — plus its harmful effects — is the result.
6. Try meditation
Different types of meditation techniques can calm your mind and reduce your stress. Concentration meditation involves focusing your attention on one thing, such as your breathing, an image you visualize or a real you look at – for example, a candle flame.
7. Keep you cool
Feeling stressed is normal. And so are setbacks when learning ways to manage stress. If you lapse into your old ways, don’t give up. Focus on what you can do to gain control of the situation.
One easy way to help yourself keep your cool and lighten your load is to remember the four A's of managing stress: avoid, alter, adapt or accept!
8. Maintain a strong social network
To help you through the stress of tough times, you’ll need a strong social support network made up of friends, family and peers. This differs from a support group, which is generally a structured meeting run by a mental health professional.
Although both groups can play an important role in times of stress, a social support network is something you can develop when you’re not under stress, providing the comfort of knowing that your friends are there if you need them. A coffee break with a friend at work, a quick chat with a neighbor, a phone call to your sister, even a visit to church are all ways to reduce stress while fostering lasting relationships with the people close to you.
Check out more integrative health solutions on the Gaiam Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions DVDs.