You are so busy at work, that lunch hours have become a laughable thing of the past. Your family members produce more drama than the latest season of “Angry Housewives.” Your refrigerator has stopped working, resulting in a rather eclectic array of leftovers that must be consumed within the next two hours. Your laundry situation is dire enough that the entire family wore bathing suit bottoms as underwear today. The common denominator between these, and your many other “if-I-don’t-laugh-I’ll-cry” life experiences? It’s S-T-R-E-S-S. This six-letter word is often so commonplace in our lives that sometimes we hardly even bother trying to eliminate it. It’s like the pervasive mosquito bite in between your toes – you sure wish you could do something to get rid of it, but it’s happily planted there and nearly every move you make seems to increase its potency. Curious about just how many of us are plagued by this tension in our lives? In 2014, National Public Radio conducted a survey of over 2,500 adults across the United States, and found that a little over 1 in 4 of us had experienced a “great deal” of stress in the past month. And statisticbrain.com reports that 77% of us “regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.” It just so happens that April is National Stress Awareness Month (you probably didn’t know that, being too busy to pay attention to such things). Given that so many of us fall victim to stress’ ugly side effects, we’d like to offer a few tips to nip this unpleasant emotion in the bud.
- The best way to keep stress at bay? Get movin’. Exercise is like the A+ student in the class that keeps doing more and more extra credit, just because she can. Stress relief is a huge benefit of exercise. Working out combats anxiety with a one-two punch by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol, and by increasing dopamine and serotonin, properly dubbed the “feel good” hormones.
- Don’t neglect your Zzz’s. In a 2013 national survey, the Huffington Post found that a lack of sleep is biggest stress trigger. In other words, when you’re tired, you’re more irritable and you’re more likely to find more things stressful. You could be making an anxiety mountain out of what might otherwise be an inconvenient molehill.
- Avoid the stress party. Have a friend who’s wound so tight he could spin off into orbit at any moment? Secondhand stress, where you actually take on tense feelings purely by being around someone who’s tense, is real. Much like secondhand smoke, the effects are just as yucky as if you are the one perpetuating. Try to avoid taking on a loved one’s problems, or spreading yours around. We all have plenty enough of our own, for goodness sake.
- Spending exorbitant amounts of time locked into digital devices separates us, physically and mentally, from those around us. Excessive use of these devices can make it more challenging to maintain real-life relationships with others, only leading to more feelings of isolation and, you’ve got it, STRESS.
Mark Twain once famously said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Old and much-used quotes are old and much-used for a reason –they hold truth and relevance. In fact, The Huffington Post actually studied this phenomenon, and found that a full 85% of participants’ worries never came to fruition. That’s a lot of stress-eating, muscle tension and furrowed brows for no reason. Whether our stressors are real, or simply feared, learning how to combat them in an effective way is a valuable lesson that will serve us well.