5 Practical Ways To Stop Stress From Taking Over For The Achy, Anxious, And Agitated
Today is National Stress Awareness Day and we're betting that you're either one of two things: a pro at keeping stress at bay, or perpetually stressed out and needing release. We know what kind of person we'd rather be!
Today you woke up with a pulsing headache—again. And it's only Wednesday.
To make yourself feel better, you pop in a pain reliever for breakfast (again), but alas, the discomfort persists, and you seek ease elsewhere, possibly in the excessive amount of food you had for lunch that made you so sleepy that you just had to nap and productive activities had to wait.
And then you overslept. You missed a meeting, your kids want snacks/need help with distance learning modules, your dog missed his outdoor potty break, and by this time, you are one cranky, groggy piece of work that stays irritable well past dinnertime. (Your phone alarm signals your nightly exercise schedule, but the most physical activity you've gotten all month is your index finger pressing snooze/dismiss button. Remembering that you've neglected exercising makes you even more annoyed).
It's now the dead of night and you're still up, working on things you should have taken care of when the sun was still up. By 1 a.m.-ish, you're finally ready to pass out, but not before a secret cigarette and an additional glass of wine to take the edge off from the day. You finally fall asleep a little before 2 in the morning. Come Thursday morning, guess what?
The throbbing comes back with a vengeance, and there you go again.
Here's a reality check for anyone and everyone who saw themselves mirrored in this: If you were a case study on how stress affects our emotions, physical well-being, and behavior, it would be a no-brainer!
Today is National Stress Awareness Day, and that means it's extra important for us to be conscious about the ways, big and small, that stress creeps into our day-to-day living. If you're worried about chronic pain, anxiety, breathlessness, insomnia, and even a dull complexion, appetite or digestive problems, lightheadedness, and palpitations being caused by underlying health conditions, be informed—so many health problems have their root causes in stress.
Stress, as intangible as it is, is so powerful that it can physically manifest in a myriad of ways.
Never discount the value of knowing how to manage stress and alerting yourself to when you need a break. In the long-term, the habit of healthy stress management could be what saves you from things like heart disease, depression, painful stomach problems, weight issues, and even cancer.
And in times when living life under quarantine (and a pandemic!) means that stress is at an all-time high, we can't stress the importance of including practical stress management techniques in your first line of defense against getting sick.
The thing about stress and its connection to diseases is this; stress in itself doesn't directly result in disease, but it can develop in us unhealthy lifestyle habits and practices that then cause these diseases. Think of stress as the mother of most, if not all, lifestyle vices that are the culprit for many major health problems.
Remember the the quasi-case study described above? Our stressed out protagonist was skipping meals, sleep-deprived, dependent on medication, had a tendency to overeat, likely had high blood pressure from constant moodiness, was not getting physical activity and instead turned to non-healthy outlets to relax. (Say hello obesity followed by cholesterol and blood sugar problems, cardiovascular disease, emphysema, lung/throat/esophageal cancer, anxiety and mood disorders, lifelong insomnia, gastritis and/or GERD and/or ulcer, osteoporosis, nerve damage, and, well, you get the point—hopefully).
With this knowledge, we'd really like to share practical stress management practices and habits that have worked for us, and can work for all sorts of people who do all sorts of things in their day.
Remember that stress is unavoidable, COVID or no COVID, and that these practices will serve you well all throughout your life!
Practice #1: Limit phone time before bedtime
We've become extra attached to our screens during quarantine, but they actually do more bad than good if we use our phones, laptops or tablets right before we go to sleep.
Staying online or gossiping the night away keeps our brains engaged, which makes it harder to go to sleep. There's also the matter of our gadgets' blue light potentially suppressing the production of melatonin (a.k.a. the hormone responsible for a good night's rest) and delaying the onset of deep sleep.
The solution is simple enough: let gadgets rest half an hour before bedtime, and we swear you'll wake up feeling more refreshed and less likely to be a grinch the next day.
As an extra tip, try your best to adjust your sleeping pattern so that you're in bed before 10p.m. This is important because it's the sleep window from 10 in the evening to 3 in the morning when your body goes on hyper-repair mode and makes the most out of the regenerative powers of quality sleep.
Practice #2: Skipping meals is a huge no
You might do it for the sake of meeting a deadline, being present for an online meeting, or whatever other reason, but the only thing that skipping meals is really doing to your body is making it hungrier (thus increasing your craving pangs and the likelihood of overeating when you do finally sit down for a meal) and slowing down your metabolism (making it easier to gain weight).
Skipping meals over a prolonged period has more detrimental effects. This is where problems like acidity/acid reflux, stomach ulcers, GERD, and God forbid, even chronic bad breath come into play.
If you truly don't have the time to sit down for full meal, have a wholesome snack on hand. Apple slices, a banana or two, yogurt, granola, slices of bread, even a cup of soup are much, much better than not having anything at all.
Practice #3: Realistic exercise—you can do it
To those who have yet to jump on the exercise train, trust us. Exercise does not make you more tired, it energizes you, at least, with consistent practice it does.
We'll need a whole new article to talk about the energizing effects and many, many health benefits of exercise, but all you need to know in the context of using being too tired from the day an excuse not to exercise is this: not all exercise regimens require you to get dressed in fancy athleisure gear, put on shoes, go outside (or to the gym), and break out into an intense sweat after at least an hour of vigorous movement. These are misconceptions.
Exercise—good exercise—can be gentle, practiced at home, done in your pambahay, be just 15-30 minutes long, and done any time of the day, four to five times a week.
Practice #4: Extinguish stress, don't feed it
When we're angry or irritated, it's almost a reflex to yell, scrunch up our faces, sigh exasperated sighs, and even slam a fist into our tables. These reactions, however, are not innately bad. We need to release big emotions, not repress or suppress them.
They become dangerous when we allow them to fester and bother us hours after the upsetting event has passed. If this is an emotional pattern we can't break free from, expect bodily reactions in the form of migraines, abdominal pain, and dizziness to become commonplace, but worse conditions like high blood pressure, stoke, and heart attacks to become future risks, too.
One of the best ways to break free from this problem is a practice developed thousands and thousands of years ago: deep breathing exercises.
You might be thinking that it's impossible to concentrate on deep breathing when you're huffing and puffing out of rage, but the trick is to first allow yourself to be mad, do whatever it is you need to do sufficiently feel pissed off, and after some time when your heart has stopped racing, follow through with a breathing exercise.
Practice #5: Support groups help
Reach out. Find a group, and don't be afraid to talk about how stressed out you are—because we all are.
There's nothing more comforting than knowing you're not alone in feeling beat up and the most tired you've ever been these days, and being able to converse about it with empathetic people has therapeutic benefits.
Making connections is vital for us to survive, and thrive, at a time like this. The connection between our emotional and mental well-being with our physical health is undeniable, so know that the simple act of talking about the day's events with a friend to get a load of your chest can do wonders to help your body unwind, sometimes literally. Besides, feeling down has ill-effects on our immune systems and when we're supposed to be protecting ourselves and our families from COVID-19, compromised immunity is the last thing we want!
If and when you find it difficult to communicate these thoughts and feelings, ask yourself this: if you were speaking to a friend going through what you were experiencing, what would you say?
Take your own advice and then you'll see how talking things out can work its magic.
Images from Unsplash and Pexels