Stress is a common occurrence in our world. In fact, it’s so usual that may of us wonder if something is wrong if we aren’t feeling stressed. The whole—I must be forgetting something— stress!
So the unfortunate fact is that stress is something we interact with on a regular basis. But just because it’s around us doesn’t mean that we have to participate in it, or even fight it. But before we can properly deal with stress, we first need to understand exactly what it is.
Let's explore some of the definitions of stress according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Common definition of stress: In common English language, stress means “a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.” This is a definition we are familiar with, and is true. But I don’t think it is big enough to expresses the whole meaning of the concept of stress. Let’s explore a few other meaning of the word “stress,” because I think it will help us better understand this thing that we deal with on a regular basis.
Stress means emphasis: We also use the words stress to bring attention to something. If you want someone to understand your meaning, you stress certain words as you speak or write it. For example, I want to stress to you the importance of recognizing stress. I think, to some extent, we are the ones that chose to emphasize certain circumstances, shortcomings, or negative possibilities, thus increasing the stress we feel. Think about the last few things you were stressed about. Out of those, how many became more stressful because you put an emphasis on them? I know that this has been true for most, if not all of the things I have recently been stressed about. There are hard things we all have to deal with on a regular basis. But at times I think we create a larger amount of stress because of the emphasis we put on things. To be clear, not all stress is of our own creation. There are things that come at us that are stressors. And our body is made to gracefully handle stress. My point is simply that sometimes we increase or add to our stress by emphasizing difficult circumstances.
Stress is not just emotional: Stress is also defined as “a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.” Stress can come from tense or drawn-out situations, relational tension, the environment including pollution, loud noise or colors, bright lights, cold or hot temperatures, sickness, a nutritional-deficient diet, chronic disease, exercise, and many other things.
Stress should not be continuous: Our body is designed to handle stressful events. Otherwise we would not have been able to run away from the tiger. But most of us now live in a series of stressful events that have no break between them, and often overlap and pile on top of each other. This leads to an imbalance of hormones. And these never-ending stressful events are what are involved in many disease causation. When we live in a never-ending stressful state, this final definition comes into play. Instead of being stressed, we become stressed, meaning: “a state resulting from a stress; especially: one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter and existent equilibrium. In this state our body is no longer responding to a stressful event, but it is forced to live in a state of stress. This compromises our body’s natural balance, and does not allow the body to be in equilibrium. Our body does best when it is balanced. When we are out of balance, the functions of the body are automatically operating at a disadvantage.
So now what? I probably didn’t have to convince you that stress was bad for you, but hopefully you are feeling more hopeful and empowered knowing that some of the stress you experience is within your control to change!
Now, what are you going to do about it? Here are the top 5 ways I deal with stress. You will notice that none of these tips includes moving to Mexico to live on a beach. While there are times it is good to remove yourself from certain stressful circumstances, most of the time it is enough to simply change our thoughts and response to our current life situation.
Five Ways to Reduce Stress’ Effect
#1 Get Out into Nature!
Spending time in nature does several things. First of all, spending time in nature, grounding, gardening, and doing things like forest bathing reduces stress, brings your body back into electrical balance, increases happy neurotransmitters, improves your immune function, and increases your creativity.
Secondly, being in nature gives us perspective. It reminds us that the problems that seems so ginormous to us are really only a small part of the picture of the world and universe. And being out in nature also shows us that we are not the end-all be-all. We did not create ourselves, let alone the world around us. And when we start thinking that way, that load of responsibility we are carrying around can get lighter. When I’m in nature, I’m reminded that God made me, and put me right here and right now. He also made what I see—the huge mountains, and the delicate flower. He is strong enough and detail-oriented enough to handle my problems!
#2 Eat the Right Foods
The foods we eat affect how we respond to stress. Foods that contain vitamins A and D (among others) like butter, lard, and fermented cod liver oil help us deal with stress better. Foods containing the B vitamin complex, especially vitamin G, help our body stay strong and well while under stress. Moderate levels of carbohydrates (can be from vegetables and fruits) support our adrenal glands when we are under periods of stress.
And certain minerals, especially magnesium and iodine, increase our ability to handle stress better. One of my favorite things to eat when I am under stress is already-cooked spaghetti squash, fried up in many tablespoons of butter, and salted generously with a whole salt like Real Salt. This side, eaten as a snack or with a meal, really supports my body. If I threw in some liver, I would have a pretty complete stress support meal!
Remember how we discussed that some of stress is an emphasis on the hard, difficult and bad? The best way to balance this is to go out and play! Have fun! Laugh! The best way to do this is to get out and move. I don’t mean go exercise—I mean go play!
Maybe take a dance class. Or go out clubbing. Or go to an open gym or trampoline place and jump in the foam pit. Or play chase with your dog. Or join an indoor soccer league. Or you can stay in: play a board game with friends. Sign up for a murder-mystery dinner. Attend a wine and paint night. Do something you enjoy, preferably with people who you can laugh with! Leave the electronic devices in the car, and practice being a kid again! And remember, while alcohol is not inherently bad, you can have fun without it!
#4 Listen to/ Play Music
Music helps with our stress at a little different level. While I’m sure science can show that certain hormones and neurotransmitters are affected when we listen to music, we all have experienced the connection that music has with our soul.
This has been recognized for most of recorded human history. Music can be powerful. It can help us connect with and express emotions that we cannot put into words. It can also influence our moods. When you are choosing music, it’s best to choose something that connects to how you are feeling, but also something that brings you up. Listening to songs that help you cry or yell* are helpful to bring an initial connection to your emotions, but after connecting and feeling fully, you will want to start choosing songs that help you remember good things, and bring you to positive emotions like loved, supported, and even excited! Sometimes we do this automatically, and other times we need to be in tune with our emotional journey, and make choices that support the direction we want to go.
*Releasing emotions is, in itself, healing. Emotions that get “trapped” in our bodies can cause disease, pain, and tension. This is one of the reasons why we feel better after a good cry. It’s not just “in your head.” Crying and expressing anger release emotions that could hurt you in the future if they stay trapped inside.
#5 Talk About It
So many times we increase our stress because we are feeling and acting alone. Many times we do this because we don’t want to be a burden on someone we love. Other times we think “it’s not a big deal,” or “I’m the one who got myself into the mess.”
Here come a couple of truths:
1: No matter how big something feels to you, it won’t be as big of a burden when you share it—to yourself and to the people you share it with.
2: If you are trying to keep a burden from someone you love and care about, they know already! They may not know exactly what is going on, but if someone (like your spouse) cares about you, they already know you are carrying a burden. One of the most loving things you can do is show them you trust them by sharing the burden. Even if you think “it’s not a big deal,” it is a big deal to you, which means it will be a big deal to the person who loves you, because YOU are a big deal to them.
3: We all mess up. And we all can use a helping hand at times to get out of the mess. Have the courage to ask for help. This will empower other people to ask for help themselves when they need it. Talking about it does so much good. It brings things out into the open and shines a light on them. So many times our fears come from the unknown. Pulling something out and examining it in the light (with other people) take a lot of power away from fear, which in turn will decrease our stress. Also, talking helps us release emotions, as we talked about above.
Okay, that’s my top five! What are the top ways you relieve stress? Let me know what they are in the comments below. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take my own advice and do a little stress relieving after making this article deadline!