7 Ways to Manage Stress
By Valerie Ross, ACE certified Group Fitness Instructor and NASM certified Personal Trainer
Stress is part of life and affects everyone. Our bodies are designed to deal with it by activating our “fight or flight” response. However, when its chronic, stress can become overwhelming and unhealthy for us mentally and physically. The nervous system continuously activates the body’s stress response which can lead to fatigue, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, muscle tension, digestive or immune system issues, and much more. Stress exists all around us from work and financial issues to our personal lives. We are subject to suffering and violence depicted in the media and over the past two years we’ve also been faced with a pandemic that caused grief, worry and concern for us all. While we can’t avoid all stressors completely, there are some things that we can do to manage it and keep ourselves healthy.
Engage in some type of physical activity to stave off harmful, chronic stress, whether it be in the form of walking, running, group fitness classes, using our Fitness Center, or playing sports. Being physically active releases endorphins, those “feel good” chemicals, in the body that can improve mood. While any activity is useful, consider adding yoga and mindful core work to your regimen too. Purposefully connecting the mind to the body’s movements has a calming effect on the nervous system. It should be something you enjoy to enhance the uplifting effect and to bolster the likelihood of sticking with it and making it part of your routine.
Having Good Sleeping Habits
Ensuring that we get enough quality sleep is another important way to manage stress. An average adult should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night (at consistent times.) This is the body’s time to heal and recharge. Too much stress can make it difficult to attain healthy sleep patterns. Minimizing screen use at least 30 minutes before bed helps relax the mind. Also, keeping a journal nearby to note any tasks or issues weighing on you can facilitate letting go of concerns when going to bed. Listening to soothing music or using a relaxation app may also help with drifting off to sleep. (But keep that device away from your head while sleeping.)
Eating a well-balanced diet can give your body the energy and the right combination of macro and micro nutrients to deal with stressors. Try to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins, and complex carbohydrates. The body requires a combination of all of these foods to work at the most optimum levels and keep us healthy. Eat a high quality breakfast to get your day started and avoid “grazing” and eating after dinner. Most of us need to lower some or most of the following: sugar, salt, saturated fats, sodas/fruit drinks, and poor quality snacks.
Taking a few minutes each day to meditate can help ground you in the present. If you are having difficulty focusing and are overwhelmed by anxious thoughts and worries, meditation can help to quiet the mind and bring your focus back to the moment at hand. There are numerous books and apps to help.
Using the breath to help calm us during moments of intense stress can reduce the heart rate and help the body reset in moments of intense stress and anxiety. A popular breathing exercise which can be done anywhere and anytime is to inhale for a count of 7, hold that breath for a count of 4, and then exhale for a count of 8. Repeat this breathing exercises as needed.
Socializing with Others
When we experience periods of stress we may want to withdraw from others. However, being with friends and family can be uplifting and cathartic. Sharing a laugh, talking about our lives, celebrating successes, and even discussing the sources of our stress can help to alleviate some of the burden.
If you find that you are suffering from chronic stress and are having difficulty performing daily tasks and responsibilities, you may need to seek help from a medical professional. When experiencing some of the symptoms associated with chronic stress, it’s important to avoid unhealthy habits such as abuse of alcohol or drugs, smoking, or overeating but rather to seek help from your physician or a professional counselor.
Stress is part of life and we can’t eliminate it altogether; however using these strategies can help reduce its impact on our health and wellness. Being aware of what our stressors are and implementing practical ways to cope with them can greatly improve our outlook, focus, happiness, and our body’s ability to handle stress in a healthy way. Remember to “keep calm and carry on.”
(NOTE: please read previous blogs by the Fitness Center and Adult Group Fitness Staff for detailed information on nutrition, exercise, and additional overall fitness recommendations.)