If you are breathing and your heart is beating (a.k.a. you're alive), chances are good that you’ve experienced stress at some point in your life. And that you’ll experience stress again in the future. You may even be in a stressful situation right now.
Life is uncertain. And with uncertainty comes stress.
Responding to Stressors
Stress is inevitable. While we can’t always control the occurrence of stressors in life, we can control how we respond to stressors.
And it's our reaction to stressors that often matters more than the stressor itself.
The human body has an incredible built-in response to stress—the sympathetic nervous system—that activates during times of stress and helps us to escape danger.
Otherwise known as “fight or flight,” this response is helpful if you’re being chased by a lion or if you’re in the path of a train.
But today, we are constantly stimulating our sympathetic nervous system for a multitude of reasons, many of which may only be a perceived threat, and not actually as threatening to our survival as escaping a lion or jumping out of the path of a train.
During the immediate stress response, your cortisol spikes and you may experience:
Increased heart rate
Tightened muscles and jaw tension
Narrowed vision (tunnel vision)
Increased hearing sensitivity or ringing in the ears
Your body isn’t designed to be under chronic stress day-after-day. And this constant triggering of stress can cause health issues that lead to more stress that lead to more health issues.
Over time, chronic stress can cause:
Weakened immune system
Anger and Irritability
Compromised memory and concentration
High blood pressure
In general, the more you allow yourself to get worked up over life events and situations, the more stressed out you will feel. People who are able to brush off the small stuff are less likely to experience the negative long-term effects of stress.
Stress Response Toolbox
The easiest and most definite way to reduce feelings of stress in your life is by removing yourself from the presence of the factors that are causing you chronic stress and put yourself in an environment that is free of that stressor.
Of course, while that’s the ideal situation, it can sometimes be easier said than done.
If you’re not able to remove yourself from the presence of a stressor, look at your response to that stressor and write down a few techniques you can turn to when that stressor strikes again.
Consider this collection of techniques your stress response toolbox.
Keep your stress response toolbox with you at all times and open it up whenever you feel your body's stress response has been triggered.
Practice your techniques often. By practicing your techniques on a regular basis—even when you’re not under stress—they will come more easily to you when you do need them.
You may even notice that including regular calming and grounding techniques into your day-to-day routine, your body’s stress response will start to be triggered less often. And that’s the ultimate goal!
5 Ways to Stress Less
Here are a five ideas to get you started with your stress response toolkit:
Slow 7-3-10 breathing.
Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose slowly for 7 seconds. Hold for 3 seconds. Breathe out through your nose slowly for 10 seconds. Repeat this 3-5 times.
Close your eyes and go to your “happy place.” This can be a real or fictional place, but you’ll want to have your happy place set-up before you need it. Think about how your happy place makes you feel. What does it look like, smell like, sound like? When you feel stressed, close your eyes and allow yourself to fully go to your happy place in your mind.
Create a playlist that you can turn on whenever you feel stressed. Include songs that help you to feel calm and relaxed, and/or songs that bring about upbeat and positive feelings.
By applying pressure to various points on your body, you can manipulate the flow of energy through your body. A few examples of acupressure points include the webbing between your index finger and thumb, in-between your eyebrows, and around your ears. For acupressure around your eyes, try an eye pillow. For acupressure points around your ears, try accu-patch ear seedsorvaccaria ear seeds.
Scent is a powerful stress reliever and is often linked to positive memories. Aromatherapy taps into the healing power of scent to balance our body, mind, and spirit. Essential oils can be diluted with water and diffused into the air with a diffuser. Lavender, Bergamot, Ylang Ylang, Clary Sage, and Rosemary are all excellent at putting you in a more relaxed state. For aromatherapy on-the-go, keep a convenient stress release roll-on in your purse or pocket.
Some people have a natural ability to feel less triggered by stressful situations. This is, in part, due to genetic temperament. But, with practice, we can all learn to put our perceived stressors in perspective and explore the strategies that quickly bring us back to a place of comfort and serenity.
Save your stress response for when you’re faced with an actual—not perceived—threat.