Here are five stages of stress:
- Acute psychological response--symptoms include anxiety, tension, anger, etc.
- Chronic psychological response--symptoms include depression, fatigue, alienation, malaise, fitful sleep, excessive drinking, eating junk food, etc.
- Physiological response--symptoms include increased blood pressure, erratic hormone levels, etc.
- Deterioration in physical health--symptoms include ulcers and heart disease
- Work performance degradation--symptoms include decreased productivity and increased mistakes
- skin rash
- unbalanced hormone levels (which may increase the risk of organ failure over time)
- high blood sugar levels
- tight muscles
- weak bladder
- headaches (migraine)
- premature aging
- bronchial asthma
- back pain
- Determine the cause of the stress (stressor)--long work hours, low pay, incompetent boss, mundane job, etc.
- Determine where the stress is affecting you--psychological or physiological (pain location)
- Determine the best method to reduce the stress--breath control, physical activity, better posture, stretching tight muscles, healthier nutrition, etc.
- diaphragm flattens
- abdominal area expands
- lower ribs spread
- upper ribs elevate and separate
- diaphragm relaxes
- abdominal are contracts
- lower ribs move back to their initial position
- upper ribs move back to their initial position
Here are four breathing exercises you can do right now to relearn how to perform deep breathing:
- Inhale for 4 seconds and then exhale for 6 seconds (repeat 3 times)
- Perform as above but this time, use your index finger to press against one nostril and perform alternate nostril breathing (repeat 3 times)
- Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds and then exhale through your mouth for 6 seconds (repeat 3 times)
- Inhale for 6 seconds, hold your breath for 6 seconds, and then exhale for 8 seconds (repeat 3 times)
Physical activity will inevitably reduce your stress level and should include anaerobic and aerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercise includes bodyweight movements (i.e., squats, crunches, deadlifts, etc.) as well as resistance training (i.e., weight training). Be sure to warm up before exercising and perform static stretches immediately following your workout. Aerobic exercise includes any activity that you can perform for long durations (i.e., 20 to 50 minutes) and includes biking, jogging, swimming, etc. Again, be sure to warm up before exercising and cool down afterwards.
Bad posture may increase the stress your body feels. Good posture entails level shoulders, scapulae and hips as well as a normal spinal curvature. Any muscular imbalance can cause bad posture. Many people exhibit round, slumped shoulders. This is usually a result of tight (shortened) chest and front shoulder muscles and weakened (overstretched) upper back and rear shoulder muscles. In this case, the tight anterior muscles should be stretched and the weakened posterior muscles need to be strengthened. Recommended exercises may include: scapulae squeezes by clasping the hands behind your back and lifting your arms; the doorway stretch; v-bar rows; v-bar front pulldowns; and rear bar pulldowns.
Eating healthier foods may lessen your stress levels. A poor diet may increase stress. A good diet consists of all the essential vitamins and minerals and helps to maintain a healthy body weight. Consider what you eat, when you eat, and how much food you eat. Here are some diet tips to reduce stress:
- limit your food intake
- chew slowly
- avoid spicy foods
- avoid caffeine
- limit sugar, salt and starches
- avoid junk food
- limit alcohol
- drink warm milk
- eat complex carbs
- eat fruits and vegetables
- eat whole grains
- eat less fat (less than 30% of your diet)
Here are tips on how to relieve body pain as a result of stress:
- improve your posture
- take a hot bath (about 10 minutes)
- use a hot pack (less than 30 minutes)
- listen to soft music
- perform muscle relaxation stretches
- use a shower massager
- use an ice pack (less than 15 minutes)
- get a massage (i.e., acupressure, acupuncture, deep tissue, etc.)
- perform deep breathing
- perform eye exercises
Here are other stress-managing tips:
- organize your life by setting daily goals
- prioritize your goals
- schedule tasks during the most efficient time of your day
- know your limitations
- do your best job possible
- be punctual
- know what's expected of you
- be a team player
- stand up for your rights
- maintain integrity
- relax during your breaks
As you can see, there are many ways you can reduce stress in your life. You can relax by performing deep breathing exercises, be active by performing weight training and cardio activities, improve your posture, get at least seven hours of quality sleep per night, eat a well-balanced diet, avoid alcohol and drugs, and set realistic goals and accomplish them. The important thing is for you to enjoy life, take control of your destiny, fulfill your own expectations, maintain your self-esteem, keep learning, and most of all keep a positive attitude.
Brian Danley, CFT
"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."