Stress Part 4: How to Prevent Chronic Stress From Overpowering You
By Dr. Molly Casey
Everyone has stress, so everyone has the same question: How do you get rid of it? If stress is making your life uncomfortable, then you’ll want to pay attention to the tools you can use to reduce stress and increase your quality of life.
We’ve looked closely at stress in previous parts of the series:
- In Part 1, we learned that stress is any stimulus that creates tension and that stressors themselves are not bad -- rather, it is about the body’s response to the stress that makes it bad.
- In Part 2, we learned the issues with stress arise when the body has met a threshold and can no longer respond in a way that’s optimal.
- In Part 3, we learned about the effects of chronic stress physically, mentally, and emotionally, and why living in a flight/fight/freeze environment is so bad for your health.
Today, let’s look at de-stressing.
Clarity is the first law of success when trying to remove stress from your environment. Take an honest look at the stressors you have in your life and how stressed you feel overall. Review areas of your life: personal health and wellness, family life, and professional life. Look at specific relationships and determine whether they feed you or put you over the edge. How able are you to be patient? How irritable, anxious, and/or depressed do you feel? This may even involve asking others how they perceive you or how you come off to them on a daily basis and what might cause you to react the way that you do. Do everything you can to get clarity on the stressors in your environment.
After getting clear on what increases your stress levels and the truth of where it may be affecting you, become committed to decreasing stress. Ask yourself what decreasing your stress would do for you and why that is important; the more specific you are, the better. Set new priorities and new goals. Don’t be overly aggressive. Be willing to lay out the steps and give yourself grace as you make changes and shift.
Be Present and Ask for Assistance
The process of change doesn’t occur overnight and it doesn’t come easy. Remember, it took time for your body to learn sympathetic dominance as its normal state. It takes time to train it to shift into parasympathetic mode. In the same way that it took solid time to create the behavioral patterns behind your habits, it takes time to retrain yourself into new patterns and habits. This requires you being present far more than the autopilot you’re likely used to running on. Often, one of the most helpful ways through this is by asking those closest to you to help you shift. Perhaps ask them to remind you to breathe deeply when they feel you’re extremely tense or to have them suggest a break if you’re overworked. Tell your team of health practitioners the changes you’re making and ask what suggestions they have. Get an accountability buddy; being responsible to another for our work often helps greatly.
While exercise is important for the physical health of the body, it also does wonders for our mental and emotional health. It can help decrease anxiety and depression and you can participate in activities that promote the parasympathetic mode such as gentle yoga or walking leisurely. Exercise is helpful in decreasing the incidence of chronic diseases. Exercise can be a gamechanger in de-stressing: don’t underestimate the power of it.
Relaxation and Rejuvenation
Find time to relax. The world moves quite quickly now. The whole component of sympathetic dominance is being overworked. The body needs rest. Everyone finds different things relaxing -- perhaps it’s a walk in the morning or evening, or reading a book at night, or a family dinner. Find what it is for you and participate in those activities regularly. Rejuvenation is required after rest. This means finding what feeds and fuels your spirit, mind, and body -- and do that activity!
Chronic stress affects nearly all people. Chronic stress is not a helpful element in our lives or health. It must be addressed and taken care of to enjoy an optimal journey of health and wellness in this lifetime.
The purpose of this series has been to define chronic stress, explain it, recognize it, and mitigate its effects.
Although it is not reasonable in most situations to think you can obliterate it, you sure can change the way you engage with stress and respond to it. So don’t be distressed -- be de-stressed. Your body -- along with those around you -- will thank you for it.
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