This article is for informational purposes only. It doesn't provide medical advice; always consult a qualified healthcare provider regarding a medical condition or treatment.
"Hi, auntie! How are you?" I asked my aunt the last time I went to visit her.
"I'm so stressed!" She replied, sinking into a fluffy armchair.
Have you ever had the feeling that stress never ends? That's what my aunt was experiencing. Every new problem, even the smallest one, seemed to freak her out and torment her for days.
After weeks from the solution to one issue, she was still complaining about it instead of moving on. She was stuck in a loop of tension, and her body was expressing it aching everywhere.
We talked a little; she really needed to let off steam. After a few hours of chit-chat, she appeared to feel better, but I knew that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Stress can be a real pain if not handled.
What is stress
According to Medline Plus, stress results from the body's response to a challenge or demand expressed as a sensation of emotional or physical tension.
During stress reactions, the heart rate increases, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises.
The two main types of stress are acute, a temporary feeling, or chronic, a long-term unmanaged sensation.
When you are experiencing a stressful situation, your body releases hormones that can be good in the short-term to react to the external adversity adequately, but that can cause health problems in the long-run such as upset stomach, insomnia, and chest pain.
Luckily there are several ways to cope with stress. You can do some exercises daily to learn to manage stress and reduce it with time.
Our lives are so busy that we might be overexposed to stressful situations, and underestimating these events might lead us to a long-term condition that should not be undervalued.
Take some deep breaths
Dedicating a few minutes to taking slow deep breaths can be a great way to calm you down during a stressful state you are currently experiencing.
You can also do this practice in the middle of the day or before going to sleep to relax and take back control of your emotions.
All you have to do is find a comfortable position; you can sit on a chair if you are in your office and can't lie down.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a safe place.
A place where you can relax and enjoy some quietness.
Start by taking some slow deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth in the beginning. Gently bring back the breath's rhythm to its usual.
Don't rush. Allow you to rest for five or ten minutes to enjoy the moment and reconnect with your inner self.
Working out regularly helps reduce stress; it also improves your mood and keeps your body fit.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans written by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "an adult should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity."
It doesn't mean you should go right away from a sedentary life to a 5-hour a week moderate-intensity training.
Take your time. You can start by walking at your own pace around the block. Walking decreases the risk of heart diseases and strokes, increases muscle strength and endurance, and reduces body fat.
According to Harvard Health Publishing's post about eating frequency and weight loss, people who consume three or more meals per day, dividing the specific amount of calories intake for their diet among the feasts, suffer less hunger.
Healthline article also points out 18 stress-relieving foods and beverages that can be added to the diet.
Some of those foods are sweet potatoes, which might lower the stress hormone cortisol level; artichokes, rich in prebiotics, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins; fatty fish, which contains Omega-3 important for the brain's health, mood, and body's ability to handle stress.
Keep your diet as variegated as possible, don't miss a meal, and consult a nutritionist for a custom plan according to your specific needs.
Last but not least, avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. They might help give you temporary stress relief but cause health issues in the long-term.
Make time for hobbies
Everybody needs some time to do what they like and feel happy about it. Do you have a hobby? Something you can't wait to do after work?
According to the Australian Department of Health, "Spending time on an activity that you enjoy can improve your mental health and wellbeing."
Music, for example, can help you manage your emotions and cope with stress.
There is no need to pick an expensive and time-consuming past-time; there are so many activities you can do every day for less than 30 minutes for immediate fun.
Among the most common hobbies there are: doing puzzles, knitting, reading, gardening, and painting.
Group activities, such as sports or acting, also improve communication and relationship skills.
Take a break and slow down
Some people find it useful to take a break from their lives, unplugging from daily worries and busy lives.
There are vacation packages created with the only goal to help you rest and recharge, like meditation retreat or travel dedicated to introspection and religious journey.
These holidays might seem too much to people not used to reflection or prayers, as an alternative, a simple holiday to the beach or mountains can help you relax anyway.
Remember to switch off the phone, don't look at work emails, and forget about your troubles for a few days.
If you can't afford a holiday, you can always try to slow down.
Cancel not vital tasks from your agenda and create some empty slots where you can enjoy some relaxation. Use these slots to meditate, practice Pilates, or simply sitting on the couch, enjoying a hot cup of tea.
Talk about your problems
Talking about problems aloud helps you reduce the impact they have on your brain and, consequently, on your life.
According to the research from U.C.L.A., putting your feelings into words, using a process called "affect labeling," can reduce the amygdala and other limbic regions' response to negative emotional perceptions. The amygdala is a part of the brain that conceives a reaction to a threat and organizes information to recognize the same risk later.
When you feel stressed, this area of the brain takes over more logical thoughts and reactions. By talking about your problems, you diminish the amygdala's emotional reactivity and maintain control over your feelings.
Talking or writing about past traumatic experiences might also have a positive impact on health. According to Harvard Health Publishing, expressive writing helps people relax, give meaning to the event they lived, and move on.
Sometimes, talking to a supportive friend or family member to vent about stressful issues might be enough. When it's not, consider consulting a professional therapist to seek the best solution to handle your stress.
Identify and eliminate stress triggers
Stress is the reaction to a tense situation; to reduce the nervousness that follows, you must identify what events trigger the feelings.
The first way to name your stress sources is to keep a journal where you take notes of all the times you feel worried and what happened when you started feeling that way. What were you doing? Who did you meet?
Once identified the roots of your anxiety, you can work to eliminate or reduce them as much as you can.
You won't always be able to remove the triggers as they might be connected to a circumstance you can't change right away, like quitting your daily job, but knowing it might help you modify the way you react to it.
These are just tips you can implement daily to reduce stress. In the short-term, stress help us deal with challenging or threatening situations, but being continuously stressed is far from being healthy.
The constant tension our body and mind feel can undermine our daily life and stop us from enjoying most of it.
I hope these ways to cope with stress can help you; if not, remember that you can always ask for a qualified professional's help, and there is no shame in that. Your health matters!