IMPORTANCE OF STRESS MANAGEMENT
Stress is an automatic response for our body to protect itself from threats. This “fight or flight” sympathetic response is beneficial if you are in a life-threatening situation or require a short-term force of motivation. But, if you experience stress over a prolonged period of time, it could become chronic. Chronic stress can have serious consequences for your brain, body, and mind.
Physical, Psychological and Behavioral Signs of Stress
Primary Physical Signs
- Accelerated Heart Beat
- Nervous Stomach
- Cold Hands or Feet
- Sweaty Hands or Feet
- Jittery Arms or Hands
- Cold Chills
- Tightened Muscles
- Shallow or Rapid Breathing
- Butterflies in Stomach
Secondary Physical Signs
- Stomach disorders
- Neck and Shoulder Tension
- Chest Tension
Psychological Signs “Emotional”
- On edge
- Relationship problems
- Substance Abuse (Food, Drugs, Alcohol)
Stress Management Techniques
Never hesitate to seek help from licensed Mental Health Professionals. There is no shame in looking out for your well-being. Talking to a supportive, knowledgeable, and nonpartisan 3rd party is helpful for you and your relationships.
Be present, self-aware, and non-judgmental in your daily activities. Here are some practices you can do alone or with others to help you cultivate this mindset.
Meditation, Moving Meditation, or Mindfulness
Close your eyes and notice your breath. Is your breathing shallow or deep? Is your abdomen moving with your inhalations and exhalations? Slow your breathing down and bring the breath down into your abdomen. Allow your mind to be silent. Focus on the space between your thoughts. If a thought comes, don’t judge it, just acknowledge the thought and let it go. Return to noticing the breath and silence.
Slowly walk outside for gentle exercise without headphones. Breathe the fresh outdoor air into your lungs and down into your abdomen. Feel your heel impact the sidewalk and transfer weight to the ball, then to the big toe. Feel your arms swing and your leg muscles propelling you forward. Feel the wind in your hair. Feel the warmth of the sunshine. Listen to children playing and laughing. Smile at strangers.
Proper breathing that activates the vagus nerve, which stimulates the parasympathetic system – “rest and digest.”
Abdominal Breathing Instructions:
- Keep shoulders and chest relaxed.
- Place hand on abdomen.
- Gently inhale through nose. You should feel your abdomen move away from you. You should NOT feel your shoulders or chest rise.
- Exhale through your mouth. Feel your abdomen deflate back towards you.
- Practice this while lying on your bed, watching TV, or standing up.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
- Do sitting or lying down. Lying down or reclined works best because your back muscles don’t have to support your body.
- Substitute PMR for clenching teeth or maladaptive coping behaviors such as smoking or overeating.
- A simple series of tension/release intervals moving progressively from one muscle group of the body to the next.
- Before any action, simply notice how that body part feels.
- Next, tense the muscles hard for about 5 seconds, inhaling as you tense.
- Then relax and exhale slowly and fully. Just let your muscles relax. Notice what it feels like to be relaxed.
- See detailed PMR handout.
Socialize and Laugh
Gentle and consistent exercise, such as, walking, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and/or restorative yoga helps calm the body and mind.
Giving to others can contributes to your mental and physical health. It can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose.
A growing body of research supports massage therapy for relieving stress. Massage and other body work can reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, relieve headaches, and even reduce stress hormones. The relaxing environment generally associated with body work “spas” contributes to creating space where you can let go of anxiety, which can exacerbate stress levels.
Eat a Healthy Diet
- Avoid foods high in fat and sugar. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial (wild caught salmon, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds, flax oil, and leafy vegetables).
- Discuss your diet and medical conditions with a physician and/or registered dietitian.
Hypnosis is a state of concentration and increased attention. It is difficult to induce yourself into a hypnotic state without guidance from a hypnotist, but you will benefit from a daily practice of relaxing yourself and giving yourself a positive suggestion.
Decide which suggestion you want to give yourself. Start by daydreaming that you are in a beautiful, peaceful place. Use progressive muscle relaxation to become more relaxed in your peaceful place. Next, count yourself down a beautiful staircase of TEN to ONE. At the bottom of the staircase, give yourself the suggestion. Then, go back up the staircase and take a deep breath as you open your eyes. Take your time getting up.
Getting eight hours of deep sleep is crucial to helping your rest and restore your energy. Here are a few sleep tips:
- Quit caffeine, if needed; it is a stimulant.
- Listen to Yoga Nidra for Sleep or other sleep guided meditations to aid falling asleep.
- Be consistent with daily activities and bed times.
- All of the above stress management techniques used during the day also increase quality of sleep.
Change happens and is a constant of life.
- Be objective and change your expectations.
- Change your behaviors as needed.
By Teresa A. Hughes, D.D.S.