By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer
Recently I did a presentation on Stress Management for psychology students at Chicago City Colleges’ “Psych in the City” program. (I’m taking psychology classes at Harold Washington College and this was an all school event with over 400 students attending!) Most of what I spoke about was a review of the autonomic nervous system and the effects of chronic Sympathetic Nervous system activation. (Sounds pretty technical, I know but if you know your nervous system or have heard anything about stress management, you know that calming the nervous system helps us better handle with the effects of stress.) It was a lot of fun, we did breathing exercises and I showed students how to find their resting heart rate…and how to speed up their heart rate with a little aerobic activity. Overall, though, the goal of most stress management techniques to is calm down your nervous system, slow your heart rate and basically put your autonomic nervous system into parasympathetic (resting and digesting) mode versus sympathetic (flight or flight) mode.
However, there are many different ways to calm down your nervous system. Read an excerpt from “30 Great Stress Relievers” on some stress relieving techniques that are not commonly thought of, like cooking and art from EKG Technician Training blog. To read the entire list from the blog, click here.
With the everyday stresses from work, parenting and budgeting finances, it’s no surprise that stress has been directly linked to causing heart disease, high blood pressure and decreased immunity. In a survey conducted by the American Institute of Stress, about 75-90 percent of all visits to general physicians are for stress-related problems. While it is difficult to avoid stress altogether, there are several ways to relieve stress and manage it through simple and often free practices that can be done at home and work.
Deep Breathing Exercises
While you can’t always control stressors, you can learn how to control and regulate your breathing. Thankfully, there are various ways to exercise your breathing to achieve deep relaxation, reduce stress and release endorphins. Learning how to stimulate, relax and count your breathe, like the breathing exercises taught by Dr. Weil, will help increase energy levels, alertness and help manage stress-related health problems.
Whether it’s classical, jazz or soft rock tunes, listening to and playing music is a popular way to relieve stress. Music has the power to slow one’s heart rate and pulse, lower blood pressure, as well provide a distraction that allows listeners to escape, or become focused on something other than what’s stressing them out. Not only is music so portable, but a little can go a long way. Make a feel-good CD for your car ride to work, listen to it when working out and meditating, or listen at work to block out sounds and added stressors.
From painting, drawing to sculpting, art is another therapeutic activity for tackling stress. Like music, art provides a means for escape, concentration and personal expression. Creating artwork allows people to explore their creativity, utilize their senses and provides a calming balance to a hectic day. You can also transfer negative energy, by using your frustrations and emotions as inspiration for your artwork. Viewing art also relieves stress because it calms the mind and muscles, provides a distraction and allows you to focus on something aesthetically pleasing for a bit.
While cooking may be a stressful endeavor for some, it is also a major stress reliever for others. Cooking is like a project that involves planning, experimentation and results. Whether you’re baking, preparing dinner or assisting in the kitchen, cooking allows people to improvise and focus on a different kind of task. In addition to the actual act of cooking, people will gain satisfaction from providing nourishment for their bodies and creating a meal on their own.
There are many health benefits of sex, including stress relief. From the physical act of lovemaking to the emotional connection between partners, sex allows people to experience pleasure and free their mind of worries. High levels of stress can decrease libido in men and women, so it is important to practice other stress relievers in order to get the most from your sex life.Talking
While some enjoy writing or reading during stressful times, others like to talk about their stress to friends, family, coworkers and counselors. Venting out loud about stressors and personal issues can help alleviate built-up emotions associated with stress, as well as help guide you toward a realistic stress management plan. Not to mention, talking to others about their lives and interests can be a healthy distraction for yours.
Nothing says relaxation like vacation. If the opportunity arises to take a trip, you should go for both pleasure and stress management reasons. Vacations let you mind and body escape from the daily routines and stressors that affect your mood and state of health. No matter how or where you spend your vacation, you are sure to experience heightened levels of relaxation and enjoyment. While vacations don’t last forever, they do provide a mental and physical break from stress and allow you to return back to work (and reality) refreshed and satisfied.
Kids aren’t the only ones who journal their thoughts and feelings — adults do it too. Writing is a cathartic activity for people to vent their thoughts, feelings and goals. Whether you prefer a diary, blogs or loose papers, all variations of journaling allow people to relieve stress by writing, evaluating and reflecting on their day. Journaling also serves as a record for detecting stress patterns, and a means to implement stress management techniques.
Along with writing, reading is another form of stress relief. Avid and sporadic readers alike can benefit from reading to relax their mind, use their imagination and adopt new ideas, skills and vocabulary. Reading is also one of the best ways to escape from the doldrums of day-to-day life, and serves as a positive distraction to a stressful state of mind. For those who suffer from high levels of stress, may benefit greatly from reading self-help books and positive reading materials that will boost their spirits and help manage their stressors.
From cats, dogs, birds and hamsters, animals are not only great companions, but also major stress relievers. Playing, petting and exercising with animals will make them happy, as well as reduce your level of stress and lower your blood pressure. Although not everyone is suited to care for a pet, you can always pet sit, go to a dog park or play with friends’ animals to get your dose of animal time and stress-free fun.
An easy way to avoid stress is to plan and stay organized. If you generate a plan, make a to-do list or make prior arrangements, you will be more likely stick to the plan, which will help alleviate stress. In addition to planning, having an organized house, workplace and daily schedule will help you achieve specific goals and avoid unnecessary stress from misplacing or losing items in a mess. Planning and staying organized does take a considerable amount of effort, but having the tools to do so and make your life easier will help in the long run.
To read the entire blog post with all 30 stress relievers, click here.