De-stressing is about the best thing you can do for your brain-health. It is impossible to prevent stress, but there is a glimmer of hope. Stress is a subjective concept. It depends mainly on how you perceive events and react to them. This means stress can also be managed and controlled. If you succeed in approaching a stressful situation in a positive and relaxed way, you will take away a large part of the negative influence.
Everybody responds differently to stress. Our genes seem to play a role in whether we are more or less sensitive to stress. Researchers have found certain gene variations that make people more reactive to stress.
Some stress related disorders are more common in women. This gender bias has a cellular basis. In a specific part of the female brain, cells are more ignitable than in the male brain. These cells activate the response to stress, which thus is more intense in women. In addition, these cells appear to take longer to quiet down again which is why the female brain doesn’t adapt swiftly to stressful situations.
Older people also take longer to recover from stress and become less tolerant of strong stressors. Besides, long-term memory takes part in the complex process via pleasant or not so pleasant memories from previous stressful situations. In general, a person’s response to stress is determined by a combination of genetic, behavioural, and cultural factors.
So, what to do about it? You can avoid some situations that will make you feel stressed. Noise for example is an obvious stressor, often without you noticing it. Reflect upon the very agreeable silence at the end of the day when all the computers in the office have been turned off. Certain types of music may raise the stress level in your body as well. Even associating with people who are agitated, could influence you negatively.
It is impossible to prevent all tension in your life. That’s why it is so important to learn to accept situations you cannot control.
Here are some guidelines that may help you manage the stress in your life:
- First, try to find out what it is that causes stress in your life. Which situations, people, or events make you feel nervous or tense?
- Write down when you feel stressed and by what circumstance. Record also how you feel in that circumstance and which physical stress symptoms occur.
- Make your life simpler and prioritise.
- Know your boundaries and learn to say “no”.
- Practice to express your thoughts and sentiments.
- Improve your lifestyle, above all where exercise and food are concerned. For instance, if you are under a lot of stress, it’s better to skip caffeine and other stimulants from your diet. Tranquillisers and alcohol are certainly not the appropriate means to control stress! It would be useful to stop following the news on television, via newspaper or internet for some time. Negative reporting influences your mood and a negative state of mind does contribute to your feelings of pressure.
- Try to find social support. Talking to family and friends is an excellent outlet.
Each person has his own ways of coping with stress. Many people do so by engaging in damaging behaviours, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, or eating junk food. A diet high in carbohydrates does lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but the resulting obesity creates more severe health problems. Natural rewards, such as palatable foods, do provide a general means of stress reduction. A study in rats demonstrated that a limited intake of sugary stuff reduces the general stress level. Such a remedy should be used in moderation and with common sense though.
Far healthier ways to dampen stress levels are among other things breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation. For instance, a very simple exercise is to concentrate on your breathing. This will alter your state of consciousness, relaxes, and will detach you from your daily worries. Feel the different types of breathing within your body. Breathe in and out at least eight times as deep, gradually and even as possible. Then go back to your normal respiration. The next step is paying attention to the way you breathe out. Squeeze out as much air as possible and try to exhale just a little longer than the inhalation. When you succeed doing this exercise regularly, spread out over the day, it will have an excellent influence on your stress level.
For relaxation exercises, go lie on your back or sit down in a comfortable way. Pay attention to the different parts of your body. Flex your muscles one by one and go on relaxing them again consciously. You will feel even better when you can picture yourself in beautiful surroundings letting every detail pass in front of your mind’s eye.
If you want to go further it may be an option to attend a course of biofeedback training. Biofeedback will make you conscious of certain bodily functions, such as muscle tone and heart rate. The final goal is to be able to manipulate these bodily functions at will.
Meditation has proven to have extremely positive effects. People who are able to meditate well have lower blood pressure, a lower heart rate, a more even respiration, and improved blood flow. It isn’t easy though to reach such a meditative state.
People with a restless mind may benefit from a mantra. A mantra can be a sound, a syllable, a word, or a group of words you repeat silently in your head over and over. This technique bans other, negative thoughts from your mind.
But of course more plain ways exist to de-stress. Listening to music, taking nature walks, dancing, sports, reading a good book, a massage, and enjoying some kind of hobby all serve the same purpose.
Handling pets is a great stress reliever. Caring for a companion animal not only brings joy and a sense of connection to one’s life, it also offers health benefits. Studies have shown that pet owners, particularly the elderly, have lower blood pressure, are less likely to be depressed and have higher self-esteem than people who don’t have pets.
The mere presence of an animal without instruction to attend to it is associated with decreased physiological arousal and decreased anxiety and depression. Stroking a dog or cat increases levels of the hormone that promotes nurturing and security, and helps boost mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Even looking at a fish in an aquarium relaxes and relieves anxiety for patients sitting in a dental waiting room.
One of the most effective ways to de-stress is laughing. Don’t take life too seriously and laugh away your stress. But probably the nicest way to reduce cortisol levels in your body is by making love.
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