When was the last time you felt stressed out? Last week? Yesterday? An hour ago?
Women today live their lives at such a hectic pace, it’s no wonder many of us experience frayed nerves on a daily basis. We may not even be aware of the tensions we’re carrying. A stiff neck, headache, or tight shoulder muscles are common responses to stress that we often disregard.
Ignoring the problem can be costly, however, both to our physical and mental health. Stress, when left unchecked, can lead to serious illness by weakening the immune system and overtaxing the heart. In fact, it’s estimated that 75 percent of all medical complaints are stress-related.
But there are easy — and even enjoyable — ways to manage the problem. The key is choosing a strategy that appeals to you and fits your lifestyle.
Following are several proven stress-management techniques. Any of them, practiced regularly, will help you gain more control over your life. And it’s that sense of control — the ability to act rather than react — that experts say is vital to reducing stress.
DELEGATE. You can’t do it all, and if you insist on trying, you may compromise your health. Instead, insist that the other members of your household — your husband, children, or roommate — share chores and errands.
When divvying up chores, let everyone have a say in the matter, including younger children. If your spouse or children fail to do their assigned chores, don’t “rescue” them. You can live with a few baskets of dirty laundry or a half-empty refrigerator until the responsible party decides to take action.
Relaxing your housekeeping standards may also ease your stress level. If the house doesn’t get cleaned every week, it’s OK. A little dust never hurt anyone.
SEEK SUPPORT. The support of a good friend can be one of life’s most potent stress busters. Often just phoning a girlfriend to chat can defuse stress.
Carve out time to socialize, even if it’s just over coffee at a local bookstore. Consider expanding or deepening your current friendships, and connect with old friends via letters, phone calls, and e-mail. Experts say that when you have people in your life who care, you’ll be more inclined to care for yourself.
GET MOVING. Most people who exercise regularly say they stick with a fitness program not because it gives them trimmer waistlines, but because it reduces stress.
Researchers don’t know exactly why exercise benefits the mind, but they’ve long attributed the mind-body link to the release of endorphins, the body’s “feel good” chemical.
The best workout is one you find enjoyable. If you view exercise as a punishment, it won’t have a calming effect. Many people mistakenly believe that only a lengthy, vigorous workout is effective. But when it comes to reducing tension and anxiety, the pace of your workout doesn’t matter. You’ll gain just as much from slow, moderate, or fast walking.
SIT STILL. The idea of meditating may seem too mysterious or difficult to learn. This ancient technique a powerful stress reducer. And learning how to meditate couldn’t be easier.
RELY ON FAITH. You may be overlooking one of life’s greatest stress relievers:
your religious beliefs. Whether you pray to God or follow your own unique spiritual path, faith gives life meaning and purpose, and helps us cope during difficult times.
Dr. Benson, in his book “Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief,” notes that people with strong religious beliefs enjoy better health than nonbelievers. He cites studies that show religious beliefs improve self-esteem and the ability to cope. Strong faith can also help counter anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
FINE-TUNE YOUR DIET. Too much coffee is a well-known nerve-rattler, but overall diet also plays an important role in how stressed we feel.
Experts advise always eating breakfast, even if it’s just a breakfast bar and a glass of juice. They also advise eating small, frequent meals during the day to keep your blood sugar and energy up. Avoid eating large meals, especially at night, because they require a lot of energy to digest and could make it difficult to sleep.
The ideal mini-meal or snack provides a combination of protein for staying alert and carbobydrates for their calming effect. Try a bagel with light cream cheese or a graham cracker topped with peanutbutter.
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, and limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol and sugar. Crunchy foods, such as popcorn and apples, are great stress relievers.
MORE STRESS BUSTERS:
- Cultivate a sense of humor. Learn to laugh at life.
- Know what you can and cannot change. Feeling in control of our lives reduces stress, but certain situations are simply beyond our influence. Acceptance is often a better approach.
- Turn off negative self-talk. Pessimistic thinking can feed your stress level.
Instead, when you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, immediately replace the thought with a more optimistic one. It will take practice to train yourself to stop thinking negatively, but once you do, you’ll have a greater sense of peace and well-being.