Our new normal has become longer working hours, falling asleep with our phones in reach, daily commutes, and trying to fit in family, friends, and exercise on top of it all! As overwhelming as it feels, we sort of thrive off that hustle at the same time. The glorification of busy is real, but so is the burnout. We’re used to such constant movement that we often forget to pause and check in with ourselves. And with newer, faster, more convenient services rolling out every day (hello, grocery delivery), what we really need isn’t another drive-thru coffee shop, but stress relief.
We all know that stress is bad. As the number of people overcome by it slowly climbs, more information about cause and effect is becoming widely known. According to the Centre For Studies On Human Stress, there are two types of stress: acute and chronic. Acute stress is a result of a specific event or situation, like almost getting into a car accident or giving a presentation. This type of stress can be beneficial because it helps you respond on the fly. Chronic stress, on the other hand, results from repeated exposure to situations that release stress hormones. Living in a state of constant fight or flight causes a domino effect that leads to a variety of other health problems.
Did you know that stress messes with your brain? A study by University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) found that chronic stress affects your ability to concentrate, act efficiently, and makes you more accident-prone. Not only that, but it also causes problems with memory and learning ability! If the brain isn’t enough, stress also takes a toll on the body. It has been linked to an increase in inflammation and blood pressure, a decrease in immune system function, weight gain and digestive disorders, hormonal imbalances, and premature aging. So basically, we all need to chill out!
While the stress keeps building, we often don’t know how to deal with it. Rather than facing the root of the issue, we opt for the quick fix. It could be zoning out in front of the TV or drinking one too many glasses of wine. Not saying that’s a bad thing (in moderation), but doing so is only a temporary relief. Instead, the key is learning how to better manage stress. Find ways to break out of your routine and release those feel-goods to counteract stress hormones.
What better way to pump up the adrenaline and snap out of a funk than by mixing it up! Try something new and be willing to get a little uncomfortable. Spin class? Karaoke? Kundalini? Side note: if you haven’t heard of this last one, look it up because it’s amazing! Doing something out of the ordinary challenges us to exercise different parts of our mind and body. Pushing our limits can be exhilarating and a provide a renewed source of motivation.
Our stress needs an outlet. Put all of that energy to good use! Whether it’s a tried and true method or there’s a slight learning curve, creativity is a productive and constructive use of your mind. A study published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association titled Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making found that even 45 minutes of artistic expression lessened overall stress in the body – regardless of talent! You see, creativity has no boundaries, which makes it the perfect opportunity to free yourself from everyday constraints. Find ways to lose yourself in the process from cooking or art classes to picking up an instrument or filling out a coloring book.
I’m not talking about the paleo diet here – unless you’re into that, you do you. What I talking about is that primal instinct to move and explore outdoors. Step away from the screen and go for a hike, run on trails, picnic in the park, garden, stick your toes in the sand, swim in the ocean. Here’s the kicker: do it without your phone. I know, I know, but did it even happen? Yes, it still counts. Be present and embrace mother nature distraction-free. Once you breathe in some fresh air, take note of the overall calm that follows.
The benefits of mindfulness are endless. A study published on ScienceDirect shows that a meditation practice alters brain activity and benefits higher-order cognitive function. In addition, meditators’ showed an increase in volume to areas of the brain associated with emotion regulation, positive emotions, and self-control. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to meditation, no biggie. Start small and simply breathe. When stress kicks in, our breath becomes short and shallow. This activates our sympathetic nervous system, which is also known as our fight-or-flight response. Controlled breathing techniques slow the breath and turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, which slows heart rate and relaxes the body. You can find a great list of breathing techniques here. For alternate options, try a gratefulness journal, a guided meditation, or a visualization practice.
When all else fails, sometimes a good recharge can come from being around higher energy. Stroll around a museum, hit up a comedy club, see live music, or surround yourself with some favorite people. Another boost of energy can come from serving others – participate in a beach clean up, volunteer, or do a random act of kindness. Involvement and community can help us feel a positive connection to something bigger than ourselves (and our stress).
When life feels overwhelming, remember to take a step back, shake it up, and finds ways to get back to yourself. Once you do so, the stress relief is sure to follow!