Stress is inevitable, but manageable. (Photo credit: Nick Youngson)

Stress is inevitable, but manageable. (Photo credit: Nick Youngson)

Taking care of mind, body, and spirit essential to manage stress

By Elvenia Gray-Sandiford

Everyone experiences stress to some degree. Our responses to stress, however, make a big difference to our overall well-being.

Stress is a natural feeling of being overwhelmed, or not being able to cope with life’s demands and events. Sometimes there are physical responses in our bodies that tell us a challenge is in process. The mechanism that helps us decide to either stay and confront the challenge or get to safety as fast as possible is commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight response, and is caused by the adrenaline hormone.

Stress is essential to survival and is an inevitable part of life. Adrenaline tells us when and how we need to respond to danger. Our systems are designed to relax and return to normal functioning when a perceived threat is gone.

However, when our bodies become triggered too easily, or remain in a near-constant state of fight-or-flight, our mental and physical health may be undermined, causing high blood pressure, autoimmune illnesses, digestive issues, depression, and anxiety.

Stressors are challenges in life. While some stressors are avoidable, stress is not. Our natural response to the world around us can be long-term or short-term, especially as we become busier and our lives become more complicated.

When we are under stress, we are usually not our best selves. The first thing that goes out the window during stressful times is rational thinking. Persistent stress can steal our joy and peace, put us in a bad mood, zap our immune system, and affect our sleep. It can also lead to unhealthy habits that negatively impact our health.

We may be surprised to know that we have far more control over stress than we believe. When it is not possible to change our situation, we can learn to change how we respond to the demands of financial pressures, parenting, family, work, other daily inconveniences of life, and perceived challenges or threats to our well-being.

No, I’m not talking about goat yoga, or going off to pray, love, eat (although those work well, and I do pray). I am talking about using strategies like training ourselves to think ahead to the kinds of situations that may be stressful. By understanding how stress affects our minds and bodies, we can recognize the contributions they make to our stress levels.

I think the important point here is that, when possible, we need to intentionally put systems in place to lessen the effect of, or preventm stress. Choosing to stay away from negativity in thoughts, speechm and people, practising positive attitude formationm and taking the time to just breathe before responding can help with managing stress.

The good thing about stress is that it can motivate us and help us to be proactive in dealing with situations and challenges in our lives. However, when stress is continuous and starts interfering with our ability to live, love, work, and play, it is a cause for concern, and we should seek additional help from a professional.

Although stress is inevitable, it can be manageable. It is of vital importance to understand that there are steps we can use to help take charge of our health and reduce the impact of stress has on our lives. Various studies propose these strategies to help us manage stress:

1. Anticipate stressful times and plan ahead to reduce the stress. Imagine the problems and difficulties coming at you and see yourself handling them calmly and effectively.

2. Predict when you are most likely to become stressed and use your imagination to prepare the brain to excel.

3. Exercise for 25 minutes, four to five times per week. (Sudden exercise can be harmful. Start slowly and build up gradually.) Physical activities like Tai Chi, dancing, playing sports, yoga, or low impact jogging can reduce stress.

4. Avoid nutritional stressors like excess calories (eat little, live long), animal fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates, caffeine (coffee, tea, cola), and salt.

5. Avoid eating at night. Metabolic rate is lower at night.

6. Eat slowly. Become a slow eater. As much as possible, try not to eat on the run.

7. Put a price on your time. Refuse to do some tasks that are not a valuable use of your time and that you really do not enjoy.

8. Learn to delegate. Remember that you are vulnerable to stress and diseases, and you are not indispensable.

9. Laugh. This can change your emotions, your biochemistry, and your brain.

10. The people you surround yourself with can make an enormous difference. Spend time with people who inspire you rather than bring you down.

11. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms. High levels of stress may leave you feeling exhausted and dispirited. When you start to feel symptoms of emotional exhaustion, it’s a sign that you need to find a way to get a handle on your stress.

12. Pay attention to self-care. Taking care of your mind, body, and spirit is essential to stress management.

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