Stress – Destress
Unfortunately in today’s society stress is just a fact of life. We are always in a hurry with too much to do and not enough time to do it. Let’s face it, we live in a fast paced, busy, hurry up society. Stress – we all have it! And it’s probably not realistic to think that we can completely remove it, but we can learn stress management.
Most of us realize that stress plays a serious role in the quality of our health. We have good and bad stress. Good stress, like pushing yourself to run a little further, our bodies welcome in moderation. Bad stress, like being overwhelmed by your day, our bodies can handle in moderation. It’s when there’s too much bad stress that our bodies begin to breakdown. We become out of balance. Time for stress management.
The Physical Ramifications
Stress effects each person differently. It can affect us physically, emotionally, and/or mentally. Symptoms are wide ranging from sweat, headaches, tense muscles, heart burn, digestive distress, dry mouth, irritable bowels, constipation, diarrhea, forgetfulness, brain fog, too many thoughts in the head, irritability, depression, sleep disruption, etc. Any combination of these symptoms can occur when we are overly stressed and not able to manage our stress level.
Interestingly most doctors now cite stress as the number one cause of illness. The reason is that it is a mild form of shock in the body.
How you might ask? When you experience stress, the pores of your blood vessels dilate which allows blood protein to escape into the interstitial space. Under normal circumstanced blood proteins are too large to pass through the blood vessels. Water is attracted to the blood protein, following the blood protein and surrounding the cells. This action prevents oxygen from getting to the cells. Cell that don’t get properly oxygenated can die, mutate, or become cancerous.
So becoming overly stressed and not having stress management techniques can have enormous health implications. So let’s look at some ways that we can reduce stress naturally before it becomes overwhelming.
I don’t want to discount the importance of exercise and movement in reducing stress. Getting your blood flowing to wipe out excess toxins, getting the muscles warm, limber and moving is definitely one of the best ways to remove stress. And, it only takes about 30 minutes of moderate paced exercise. But, truly, I don’t want to focus too much on exercise and stress because trying to get to the gym can cause it’s own stress, working out too fanatically can cause additional stress in your body. I’m not saying don’t exercise, I’m saying get 30 minutes of fun movement into each day. But here, in this blog, I want to focus on other ways you can destress besides exercise, which is always the only one I ever hear people talk about. So, here’s some additional suggestions to try right away the can ease your stress level.
Not only is deep breathing a great stress reliever it has a number of benefits for the body. Deep breathing oxygenates the blood, which helps stimulate the brain, muscles relax, and the mind begins to quiet. The lungs are the pump for the lymphatic system which is sort of like the garbage removal system of the body. As we breath deeply, the lymph fluid is pumped through the body which allows it to gather up the blood proteins and place them back into the blood stream where they belong. All of this helps counteract any potential physical harm done by stress.
So here’s a simple breathing technique that will help bring your system into better balance while reducing stress. Even though it’s simple, it’s amazingly effective.
To begin, find a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus all your attention on your breathing. Feel the air enter your nose and travel down into the lungs. Feel your stomach rise as the air enters, and then slowly descends on you exhale. Practice a few breaths, focusing on the movement of the air.
Take another deep breath in. Now, take your right thumb and press gently on the side of your right nostril, closing the nostril. Breathe out slowly and completely through the left nostril. Deeply breathe in through the left nostril. Then press gently with your index finger on the left nostril, closing it, while opening your right nostril to breathe out. Breathe out slowly, and completely through the right nostril. Breathe in again through your right nostril.
Continue in this way, alternating breathing out and in, then changing nostrils. Start with 30 breathes and try to increase to 5 minutes. Take it easy though. There is no rush. Go slowly and don’t hyperventilate, or you may get dizzy.
The purpose of this breathing exercise is to settle and calm you, not to make you feel tense. You don’t need to breathe in and out so slowly that you don’t feel your getting enough air. Just breathe comfortably. Once you get used to it, it’s very pleasant and relaxing, helping remove unwanted stress. Best of all it can be done anywhere, under any condition where stress arises. You’ll feel more relaxed and have more energy.
Stress and Music
I have to admit, music is one of my favorite ways to unwind and destress. Playing the right song and singing along relaxes me to a whole new level. In the clinical world, it’s called music therapy and has shown many health benefits for people with a large number of conditions. The right music can actually lower your blood pressure, relax your body, and calm your mind, all relieving the effects of stress.
I’m sure you are probably just like me and when you hear a particular song, you can’t help but sing or want to get up and dance. And there’s probably some music that as soon as you hear it you want to shut it off because it grates on your nerves. In a nutshell, that’s music therapy.
Music has a frequency (rate of vibration), sound has a frequency, emotions have a frequency. Similar frequencies resonate with one another. When I want to encourage a feeling of fun or pleasure I play up beat, fun, dancing music. If I want to feel calm, peaceful state, then I play calm, peaceful music. Find the music that resonates with your frequency to relax, unwind, and destress. If you’re not sure, many stores now have listening areas where you can test various albums or check the demos on iTunes. When the song makes you feel less stressed then that’s the one to buy.
Brain Wave Sounds is another great idea for stress management. (See my previous post recommendations for how binaural beats use sounds rather than words.) These are fabulous for listening to right before going to bed. Again, listen to the various demos of the sounds to find the one that feels like the stress is floating away and calming is entering your body.
Scents can help stimulate the emotional control center of the brain. We all have smells that stir an emotional response, sometimes because of previous memories, such as grandma’s home baked chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Essential oils allow you to create emotional responses. They have been used to release anxiety, depression, fatigue, as well as stress. You can use a diffuser to add the oil to the air or you can apply them directly to your body.
Again, this is a personal reaction to the smell in order to relieve stress and create a calmer being so you have to test for yourself. A good place to start is with lavender as it promotes relaxation and decreases stress. Other know calming oils include chamomile, rose, jasmine, sandalwood, and cedarwood. Bergamot and other citrus oils can be stimulating while also destressing to the body.
But find the essential oil that brings you the greatest calming sensation in order to reduce the greatest amount of stress. I’ll admit that for me it’s ylang ylang because I can easily visualize myself lying on a tropic beach, listening to the waves, basking in the warmth of the sun, and enjoying a fruity cocktail. Yep, that’s stress reduction for me! Of course visualization is another great way to unwind, relax, and destress but that’s a topic for another day.
Stress and Sleep
I’ve written before about how important sleep is to your health (see article here) so I won’t belabor it here. What I will do, is give you another great resource – the Guide to Stress and Sleep – put out by sleepadvisor.org. It includes some great tips on how to get better sleep in our crazy world. Better sleep = better health and less stress.
Start here, with some deep breathing, music or binaural beats, movement, essential oils, and good sleep. These are all cheap and easy. You don’t need expensive equipment or a weekend at a spa. Other people don’t even need to know you are working on stress management when you use these techniques. Try these on a daily basis, if possible, and you will find your stress level reduced almost immediately.
Linder, Maria. (1991). Nutritional Biochemistry & Metabolism, with Clinical Applications, 2nd edition. New York: Elsevier.
Thibodeau, Gary A & Patton, Kevin T. (2008). Structure and Function of the Body. St. Louis, MI: Mosby Elsevier.