If you’ve spent much time here on earth, you’ve probably experienced stress. In some cases that’s a good thing. In others? Not so much. The key is to manage stress correctly to reduce its impact on your life.
The Fight or Flight Response
Whether you’re worried about a presentation at work or about to be attacked by a grizzly bear, your body reacts the same way. It initiates a fight or flight response, which increases your breathing rate and blood pressure while secreting adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream.
During the fight or flight response, many of your body’s processes stop. For example, your digestive system stops metabolizing food the way it normally would. This helps your body conserve energy so you can focus on the situation before you.
Humans have always experienced stress, but today’s world puts us in a unique situation. From traffic to project deadlines to the awful news coming through your phone every day, stress can easily pile up. And it doesn’t matter if today’s stressors threaten your life or not – your body acts in exactly the same way.
The Impact of Constant Stress
If you tend to just muscle through your stress instead of intentionally managing it, you increase your risk for a number of physical conditions. High levels of stress are linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Cortisol, one of the hormones your body releases when stressed, is an enemy if you’re trying to lose weight. Because this hormone encourages your body to conserve energy, it makes you more likely to hang on to fat. When we lose weight, we don’t want our bodies to conserve energy. We want to use it as much as possible.
Intentionally Managing Stress
While we can’t always control the stressors in our lives, we can control their impact. This, in turn, lessens the impact of our fight or flight response on our body. Here are three techniques you can use to intentionally manage the stress you encounter in your daily life.
- Guided Imagery: Guided imagery is the practice of using your imagination to create a soothing, stress-free experience. This quiets the stress response. Your unconscious mind cannot tell the difference between an imagined event and a real one. Because your mind doesn’t perceive a threat during your imagined experience, your stress response has no reason to turn on.
- Breathing Exercises: When we are stressed, our breath becomes quick and shallow, using muscles in the chest and shoulders. This is unlike normal breathing, which uses the diaphragm almost exclusively and allows air to reach the deepest part of our lungs. Focusing on deep, slow breathing allows your body to return to its natural breath.
- Music: Certain classical composers, including Brahms, Mozart, Handel, Vivaldi, and Pachelbel, can have a calming effect when you’re stressed. You may also have certain artists or songs that you know help you feel relaxed. Try listening to music to reduce your body’s stress response.
Your Next Steps
Research one of the stress management methods listed above to learn more about how to use it to your advantage. Practice your chosen method, then share what you’ve learned with your Challenge Group. If you find that one method doesn’t seem to do much to make you feel less stressed, try another. Practice stress reduction techniques at least once a day, as well as whenever stressful situations occur.