Stress is unavoidable and a normal reaction to situations or events that you deem to be a threat, either real or imagined. When a threat is perceived, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones then ready the body to take emergency action. Your heart rate increases, blood pressures rises, muscles tighten, breathing gets faster, and your senses become sharper. These changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus -- preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. This stress response actually helps you to stay focused, alert, energized, and in some cases, alive.
Over time, this response might be more automatic as your body is in overdrive. Think about when you go to a busy, urban area such as New York City. Honking horns, sirens, and the screech of cars and buses are almost nonstop. I can't walk a block without hearing at least one of these noises. Having been in New York for a while now, I find that the noise just plays in the background and doesn't bother me as much as it used to.
I recently got back from a business trip in the idyllic Santa Monica, California and, upon returning, the noise was ever-so evident again, only to begin slowly disappearing. Except the noise didn't disappear; I just got used to it. The same is true with our bodies: We get used to stress, though it still impacts us in a negative way.
Here are eight simple stress-busting tips to do right now:
- Breathe deeply. When people are stressed, they tend to take short shallow breaths instead of healthy, deep breaths. Inhale and expand your mid-section. Bring air first to the bottom of your lungs by bringing your tummy outward. Then expand your rib cage to the sides. Expand your collar bones and let it all out. Repeat.
- Visualization. Imagine a place in your world that is relaxing. Perhaps it is a favorite park or beach, or maybe your bed. Be specific and in your mind's eye, go there. What does it feel like? What do you see and hear? Relax there for a few minutes.
- Drop your jaw. Doing so will help you to relax your entire body. So often when people are tense they tighten up their jaw and/or facial muscles. Allow your bottom lip to pout to loosen up your facial muscles. Remember, a relaxed face is a relaxed body.
- Tighten and relax your muscles. This is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). Start at the top of your head and work your way to your toes. Tighten each muscle group and hold it for five seconds, relax it for 30 seconds, and then move to the next part of your body. Doing this and other relaxation techniques when you feel stressed can help lower blood pressure, slow respiration, and bring about overall well-being and calmness.
- Pace. Walk for a bit and work off the excess energy.
- Stretch. Do it before heading into a situation you anticipate might be stressful. It can help to loosen the muscles and get the blood flowing. It's also a good distraction from whatever might be on your mind.
- Talk with your hands. Contrary to what some people might say, I actually think talking with your hands is a good thing. You see, when you try to restrict your body and movements it tends to restrict your thinking. Let it flow.
- Find a friendly face. This is particularly helpful if you're giving a presentation or are in a social setting. A friendly or familiar face can help serve as a security blanket as it helps to release oxytocin, a stress hormone that plays a role in the bonding process.
So next time you feel stressed, will you let it get the best of you or will you focus on what you can actually control? Take charge by stepping back and reaching into your bag of stress-busting tips. Your life will be better!