We live in a world of ever-increasing exposure to stress, whether it’s the endless feed of disheartening news, the cruel drumbeat of social media comparisons, or just worries about everyday problems. And it’s not getting better. According to a recent Gallup poll, people are unhappier and more stressed than ever before.
Is it any wonder that most of us experience sleepless nights from time to time? Waking up to a mind racing with worries, concerns, and what-ifs. A family member is ill or you’ve incurred an unexpected bill or one of your kids is struggling and you’re at a loss over what to do. In other words, life is happening and your mind and body reacts in ways that negatively impact your mental and physical health. Stress can cause insomnia, headaches, upset stomach, chest pain, anxiety, depression, low energy, moodiness, increase in illnesses and infections to name a few.
And there’s no avoiding it – stress doesn’t discriminate between old or young, rich or poor, or any other demographic. Of course, there are circumstances that are significantly more stressful than others. The stress of living in a war zone far exceeds the stress of dealing with a toddler tantrum. And sometimes we create our own stress by having unrealistic expectations. The point is, we all experience situations that bring on anxiety, frustration and worry.
Defining stress is actually a bit of a conundrum for the psychiatric and medical professions because there is not one clearcut consensus as to what it actually is. Is stress an emotion? A medical condition? A feeling? After doing some serious googling, I found a definition that seems to cover all the bases; “stress is a pattern of physiological, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive responses to real or imagined stimuli that are perceived as preventing a goal or endangering or otherwise threatening well-being.”
Or in layman’s terms – the way we feel when life gets to be too much.
There are as many causes of stress as there are life experiences, and some stress is actually preceded by positive events. Getting married, the birth of a new baby, moving to a new home, a child starting college, retirement. In short, the life events we all hope for and then worry about. What some would call “good” stress.
And there is stress that comes from unwelcome situations; an illness, the death of a loved one, financial problems, painful relationships and on a more global scale; natural disasters, war, injustice and upheaval. Bad stress.
While everyone experiences stress, some people are able to manage it better than others. We can’t eliminate every stressful situation but there are ways to minimize unhealthy reactions and adverse health consequences. Or what I like to call “stress-busting.”
Everyone has their coping mechanisms. I thought it would be interesting (and helpful) to learn how others find their happy place when life gets overwhelming. In the spirit of collective stress reduction, I asked several friends and readers to share their own personal stress-busters. Read on for tips to a calmer life.
Get Zen or get moving:
Many people call upon breathing and relaxation techniques to counter stress. Yoga or other mind-body exercises are often used to relieve anxiety and tension – as are more intense forms of exercise. As one athletic friend replied; “Running. Just me and the rhythm of my breathing.”
Be at one with nature:
Several people shared that a nature walk is their tried-and-true method to shake off stress. “It’s hard to stay agitated while strolling through a natural landscape while breathing in fresh air. Even better with music or a pet for company.” For those who have a green thumb, working in the garden or even just “turning soil with a shovel – does the trick every time.” And who can argue with, “a white sand beach with turquoise water” as a no brainer for cutting through the tension.
For some, getting behind the wheel does a lot to drive away worries.
A travel enthusiast suggested “taking a long road trip on a two-lane highway to clear the mind and improve the mood.” A car buff advised; “a drive in my sportscar does the trick.” For the self-propelled; “a long bike ride with the guys puts me in a great frame of mind.”
Me time – or there’s nothing a little splurge can’t fix.
Not surprisingly, hitting the spa was a popular suggestion. Massages, facials, mani-pedi’s provide a calming effect for a lot of people. For a less expensive option, a bubble-bath along with chocolate or wine will also suffice. “A trip to Cold Stone creamery,” is a favorite mood lifter for another reader.
For some, combining several calming techniques results in the ultimate in tranquility. “I sit on my back patio at the end of the day, put my feet up, listen to music (or read a book) while enjoying a big glass of wine.”
Golf can be a source of endless frustration for many people, but others find it a perfect way to turn around a bad day. “Walking the golf course – I’m a different, happier person even if I play poorly.” Or; “playing 18 holes with good friends never fails at improving my day.”
There’s a reason that most dogs qualify as an “emotional support animal.” In addition to canines, people find comfort spending time with their cats, horses, rabbits and other pets. “Sitting on the couch with my puppy with a cup of coffee nearby instantly calms me down,” said one reader. Another commented: “Walking my dog, regardless of the weather, is a must to keep me sane.”
As for me, I take a multi-faceted approach when stress strikes – some days it’s a long walk with music or an inspiring podcast playing in my earbuds – other times, it’s working out with friends, getting lost in a Netflix comedy or diving into a page-turner. And, of course my dogs are a constant soothing presence (even when behaving badly.)
The take-away? We can’t eliminate stress – it’s woven into the fabric of life itself. But we can learn to manage it and lessen the negative impact it has on our health and quality of life. So, take that walk, or drive, or run. Visit the spa, eat the ice cream, play that round of golf. Or just pet Fido. Your well being depends on it.