By Carolanne Wright Contributing Writer for Wake Up World 6th February 2015
Stress is such a common occurrence in our daily lives that we have come to the point where we barely question its presence. And yet, when we ignore these heightened states of pressure, our physical, mental and emotional health suffers. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Taking a cue from those who are cool under fire, we can transform our daily experience into one that is productive, relaxed and actually enjoyable.
Danger signs of stress
According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic stress leads to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as well as:
– Over or under eating
– Lack of focus
– Loss of libido
– Social withdrawal
Since stress also suppresses the immune system, we are more prone to colds and influenza along with cancer. Risk of stroke increases too. Thankfully, we can break this damaging cycle with a few lifestyle adjustments.
Find your center
Michelle Carlstrom, senior director of the Office of Work, Life and Engagement at Johns Hopkins University, observes that centering practices like meditation, prayer or focusing on the breath “help a person push pause, reflect and try to stay in that moment to reduce racing thoughts and reduce interruptions. . . . I believe any strategy that aims to do that absolutely reduces stress.” Even just a few minutes of centering each day can encourage an unruffled orientation.
Research has shown that using techniques which inspire positive mental states, such as appreciation and gratitude, reduce health destroying cortisol by 23 percent while increasing health promoting DHEA.
A study published in the journal Integrated Psychological and Behavioral Science found “DHEA was significantly and positively related to the affective state warmheartedness, whereas cortisol was significantly and positively related to stress effects … The results suggest that techniques designed to eliminate negative thought loops can have important positive effects on stress, emotions and key physiological systems.”
People who are calm get the recommended amount of sleep each night, between 7-8 hours. Many also take naps, recognizing the habit reduces cortisol and boosts productivity as well as creativity. Just make sure a midday snooze is kept under 30 minutes.
When stress hits, those who manage it well tend to spend time with family and friends. Socializing helps reduce tension and anxiety, while buffering negative effects. Calstrom recommends blowing off steam with close friends, workmates or family when life becomes too tense.
“It’s important to realize that everyone is functioning at a really fast pace but carrying a lot of stressors,” notes Carlstrom. “Pause, count to 10, and say ‘Is this something I need to tackle? How significant is this going to be in three months?’ Ask yourself questions to frame it and get perspective. Find out if this stress is real or if it’s perceived.”
Use vacation time
Besides increasing overall productivity and job satisfaction, taking a break and going on vacation can keep stress levels under control. Holiday trips have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve immunity and even extend lifespan.
By taking an email sabbatical, we can dramatically lower our level of stress. A study at the University of Irvine in California discovered a break from email significantly lowered worker’s stress and increased focus. Backing away from the computer also allows for more enjoyment of stress relieving, pleasurable activities.