When it comes to stress, it’s the little things that matter. A seemingly tiny mishap — such as a lost set of keys — can trigger a tidal wave of negative reactions on an emotional, physical and even cellular level as stress hormones spike.
The flip side of this unfortunate truth is that even small steps can go a long way toward soothing — or even circumventing — the stress response.
We took a good look at the 10 moments during the day when stress is most likely to flare, then asked our Cleveland Clinic experts and reviewed the research, to offer up proven solutions to these tense times. We hope that they help you reduce your daily stress and guide you toward a more peaceful existence.
1. Stressful Situation: Poor communication with your spouse or partner Feel like you and your partner just don’t connect anymore? Your communication skills are likely suffering from disuse. “We spend an average of seven minutes a day actually conversing with our partner,” says Scott Bea, PsyD, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. Here, a few ways to get back in the swing:
• Try active listening. It’s easy to blame your partner for 100 percent of your disconnection woes, but everyone in the partnership — meaning you — bears some responsibility for keeping the lines of communication open. To steer your interactions in a more positive direction, Bea suggests active listening: After your partner says something to you, repeat it using slightly different wording, and include a feeling word. For example, say, “You had to deal with one request after another from your boss today, and that made you feel unappreciated.” “It’s a simple formula that takes a lot of practice,” Bea says. The payoff? “It’s nearly impossible to overreact when you’re conversing this way.” Make sure to take turns so that each of you gets a chance both to speak as well as to practice improving your active listening skills. • Send a signal. “We get lazy in our communication habits, so we forget to listen,” Bea says. To change that dynamic, let your partner know that you want to have a new kind of conversation. Say, “Would you mind if we turn off the TV for a few minutes? There’s something I want to talk about.” • Create a new habit. Human brains love ritual, Bea says. So create a ritual that fosters true communication, such as having everyone at the table take turns talking about one thing they’re concerned about and one thing they’re grateful for. “Setting aside some time each day where you check in with each other wards off bigger misunderstandings.”
2. Stressful Situation: Focusing on your work It’s an unwritten rule of the modern age: The more work you have to do, the more you check Facebook. If you’re struggling to be productive at work, consider getting yourself a plant.
Multiple studies have shown that living plants — and even flowers — improve productivity in the workplace. In one study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M, workers with plants in their office environment showed more creativity — thinking up new ideas and approaching old problems innovatively.
Plants that don’t need a lot of natural light and can withstand infrequent watering include the peace lily, spider plant, philodendron, grape ivy, and Chinese evergreen. Allow soil to dry out completely between waterings, avoid placing plants anywhere subject to extremes in temperature (near an outside door or under a heating vent), and occasionally move your plant around the office to give it varying intensities of light.
3. Stressful Situation: Difficult coworkers Everyone’s got one: an annoying colleague. Whether they’re bossy, passive-aggressive or just plain chirpy, the fact that you spend so many waking hours in their company means your coworkers can have a big impact on your quality of life.
Of course, you can’t change another person’s behavior — you can only change your own reaction to it. That’s why Scott Bea, PsyD, a psychologist in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health, suggests that you start practicing mindfulness meditation. “When you achieve the ability to notice your internal experience, you can be a witness to your emotions instead of getting caught up in them,” Bea says. Meaning, your coworker’s antics will have significantly less power to wreck your day.
To put the power of mindfulness meditation to work on the job, practice it on your own time first, Bea says. He recommends spending five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night sitting quietly and watching your thoughts arise, allowing them to float away as you redirect your attention to the sound of your breath. “When you practice mindfulness on your own time, you’ll be able to call on those skills instead of getting pulled into the drama at work,” Bea says.
And when you can remain on more neutral emotional ground, it will be easier to be diplomatic with your troublesome colleague. Then you’ll be able to speak to them calmly about any issues — and move on.
4. Stressful Situation: Making time to exercise It’s 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and instead of heading to the gym for your regular Zumba class, you’re headed to your child’s school play. It’s just an inevitable part of parenthood, right?
Not necessarily, says Heather Nettle, MA, coordinator of exercise physiology services for the Cleveland Clinic. The true reason you didn’t get a workout was because of poor planning. “So many people fail to exercise because they try to set up a regular time each week,” such as Monday mornings or Thursdays after work. That approach is fine if your schedule never changes, but most people have different things popping up each week.
Instead, Nettle counsels that you plan only one week at a time. “When you plan only for the week ahead, you can find time between everything else you have to do.” It’s less intimidating to commit to exercising for the next week, and not the rest of your life. And a weekly plan is likely to make you feel more successful: “Each week you get to reevaluate and set a reasonable goal based on all your other responsibilities.” Feeling good about the exercise you get instead of feeling bad about the workouts you skip — now that’s priceless.
5. Stressful Situation: Stuck in traffic/running late Next time you’re sitting behind the wheel, staring at a sea of red taillights, knowing that you’ll be late and there is little or nothing you can do about it, try singing.
Singing will keep you from screaming, plus a whole lot more. Studies have found that singing promotes positive emotions, boosts the immune system, and can lower blood pressure. Plus, the car is the perfect place to unleash your inner Pavarotti — the radio is at your fingertips, and you don’t have to worry that anyone else will hear you.
6. Stressful Situation: Anxiety about money Whether you are fretting about money because you overspend, under-earn or are simply feeling the effects of the Great Recession, we have one piece of advice: Put down the calculator. “Tallying up how much you owe over and over only keeps anxiety alive,” says Scott Bea, PsyD, a psychologist in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health.
Although you’re only trying to make yourself feel better by determining how much you owe or where the money to cover your bills will come from, you’re ultimately only making yourself feel worse. “The ritual of adding up your numbers makes you feel better for a moment, but it quickly wears off. You’re left feeling anxious again, and you’re compelled to try the same unfulfilling strategy.”
Instead of repeatedly dwelling on your money issue du jour, take another tack: Set aside a certain time each day, week or month when you will look objectively at your financial situation and plan your strategies for remedying them. “It takes a lot of discipline to stick to a scheduled ‘worry time,’ but when you do, you take yourself off the anxiety merry-go-round.”
7. Stressful Situation: Deciding what to make for dinner Quick — what’s for dinner tonight? If the mere thought of preparing an evening meal causes your stress levels to rise, you’re in good company: A 2011 survey of moms by BetterBathrooms.com found that 5:55 p.m. — prime time for making dinner — is the most stressful time of day.
Dinnertime stress comes from 1) the desire to eat something nutritious (and tasty), 2) little time for prep, and 3) the end of a long day — when stamina and blood sugar levels are usually running low. No wonder it’s so stressful.
Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, the director of coaching at the Cleveland Clinic, offers these two simple strategies to keep you well-fed and unstressed.
First, schedule your grocery shopping on your calendar with all your other appointments. “Folks typically forget to make time to grocery shop, which creates the condition of having nothing in the house,” Jamieson-Petonic says, making it all the more likely you’ll end up eating a frozen pizza or ordering in.
Then, when you’re at the store, focus on buying staples. Here is Jamieson-Petonic’s list of what to have on hand at all times:
Whole-grain pasta Brown rice Canned beans Low-sodium broths Low-salt tomatoes Extra-virgin olive oil Low-sugar pasta sauce Salsa Precut, frozen grilled chicken breast Ground turkey Frozen fruits and veggies
From this list, you can make the following meals (and even more):
• Burrito bowls with grilled chicken, rice, tomatoes and salsa with frozen grilled peppers • Chicken noodle soup in the slow cooker — throw everything in the pot in the morning and dinner is done when you get home • Pasta with olive oil and basil or pasta with red sauce and veggies • Macaroni and sauce with ground turkey • Black beans and rice with salsa and veggies
8. Stressful Situation: Leaving the house on time with everything you need Ever walk into a room and forget what you went in there to get? Science says it’s no surprise: A 2011 study by researchers at Notre Dame found that participants became more forgetful when they walked through a doorway.
If you frequently leave your lunch, wallet, gym clothes or anything vital at home, take a minute the night before to sit down and write a list of everything you need when you leave. Include everything — even the no-brainers, such as your keys and wallet. The next morning, you won’t have to wander through the house trying to remember what you forgot. The stress-free result: You’re more likely to leave on time with everything you need.
9. Stressful Situation: No time for yourself In our productivity-obsessed culture, hobbies — whether goal-directed, such as gardening, or something a little more amorphous, such as puttering around in the garage — can get short shrift. But it’s precisely these types of nonessential activities that help keep us happy and whole, says Scott Bea, PsyD, a psychologist in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. “Whatever absorbs your attention and regenerates you deserves a regular portion of your time. It may not add anything to the planet, but it makes you a more fulfilled human.” This “me time” benefits you and everyone you come in contact with.
How to find this elusive “me time”? Bea counsels setting up something regular in your schedule — 30 minutes after the kids go to bed to knit, or Saturday morning trips to the flea market. The ritual of the process is as important as what you do. “Our brains are set up to respond to routine,” he says. Making “me time” part of your established routine will make it easier for you to ignore the things you feel you “should” be doing. If you have kids, speak to your spouse about taking turns so each partner gets a share of restorative time. And if that doesn’t work for whatever reason, get creative. “We all need help from friends, neighbors and family members periodically. Instead of thinking of all the reasons why you can’t take time for yourself, focus that energy on asking for the help you need to make it happen.”
10. Stressful Situation: Tossing and turning all night Although all the conditions are ripe for sleep — outside it’s pitch black, you’re cozy in bed, and you’ve longed for this moment all day — you can’t sleep. No matter how much you hope sleep will come if you just keep waiting for it, the best thing you can do is to get out of bed, says Michelle Drerup, PsyD, a psychologist at the ClevelandClinicSleepDisordersCenter.
“When your mind is going, you get more stimulated as the minutes go by,” Drerup says. Add in the worry of not getting enough sleep and you’re wound up tighter than a spool of thread. When you get out of bed, you take the pressure to fall asleep off the table. “Do something calming to distract you from whatever’s on your mind.” That includes reading for fun (no work-related material allowed), doing a crossword puzzle or listening to music. Only when you feel drowsy should you get back in bed.
No matter how much you’d like to sleep in the next morning, Drerup also counsels waking up at your usual time. “Trying to catch up on your sleep — whether that’s sleeping late or taking a nap — will only disrupt your sleep-wake cycle and make sleeping more difficult the following night,” she says. Instead, push through the day — avoiding caffeine after lunch — so that you are primed for sleep at your usual bedtime.
Seven Ways to Cut Out Stress
By Aaron Adamek
Stress can make even the most focused and hardworking people lose their minds. Stress can ruin your life when you're always worried about something and scared that you're going to fail. Many people may not realize how easy it is to relieve stress and live a healthier, happier life. There are many things you can do to get your mind off something that's bothering you and relax your mind and body.
Take a hike. Walk through a park or on a mountain trail. Nature is so relaxing and forgiving that you can truly be at peace with yourself away from the hassles and noise of the modern-day urban jungle. Just getting away from it all can help you to forget about what's bothering you and rejuvenate your mind and body.
Read a book. Jump into the pages of your favorite story and let your mind wander through mythical worlds, solve a mysterious murder case or go back in time to forget about stress for awhile. You can be anyone you want while reading, and you don't have to deal with the IRS, nosy neighbors or job deadlines while exploring the pages.
Go to the gym and hit the weights. What better way to release stress than to pump some iron? Your mind releases powerful endorphins when you lift, making you feel "pumped." This "pump" eliminates stress and helps you relax, especially after you complete a good workout.
Listen to music. Break out your iPod and listen to something that calms you down and helps you escape. Music is the best medicine when you're stressed, and you can often relate to the songs you listen to. Just turn the volume up high and get away for a little while.
Make a list of the positives in your life -- it helps. Having a negative attitude when you're stressed doesn't contribute to solving the problem. Make a list of things that you're grateful for in your life. You'll be pleasantly surprised with this little reminder of all the positive aspects of your life.
Eat something you love, like your favorite dessert. Moderation is key, but certain foods and sweets have chemicals that can release oxytocin into your body and help relax you. A bowl of chocolate ice cream or a piece of cake can make you feel better. Plus, hunger exacerbates stress. Eat sensibly to curtail cravings.
Laugh -- it really is the best medicine. Find someone or something that makes you laugh and let yourself go. A good belly laugh releases those feel-good hormones and can improve your outlook on things, at least for a little while.
You can add your own stress-relieving activities to maximize the potential to have a better day. Never underestimate the power of a good night's sleep, a nutritious diet and regular workouts. Stay calm in times of stress and know that things can get better.
Address Stress for Better Blood Pressure
By Gini Kopecky Wallace Published 6/30/2010
We don’t all stress out about the same things, but we all stress out about some things, and when we do, our blood pressure often suffers.
For some people, the effect is swift and direct. We get anxious, angry, frustrated or frightened, and our sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear and pours adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol and other fight-or-flight hormones into our bloodstream. Our hearts beat faster, our arteries constrict or widen depending on where blood needs to go, and our kidneys retain fluids and salt to increase blood volume.
All good when we need to fight or run to defend ourselves or push a friend out of the path of an oncoming car. We can ease up afterward, go “Whew!” and let our parasympathetic nervous system take over to slow the heartbeat, relax the blood vessels, lower blood pressure and calm the body down.
But it’s not good when the alarm gets tripped chronically for a long list of reasons: money’s tight, the mortgage is due, you’re angry with your partner, you’re worried about your kids, you hate your job but you’re terrified of losing it. The frequent (or, for some of us, constant) bombardment of stress hormones and other emergency-strength biochemicals can inflame or damage the arteries and cause smaller blood vessels to burst, or to thicken and stiffen to withstand the assault. Your heart muscle can suffer from overexertion. Your whole cardiovascular system is working too hard and eventually your body may simply crank up your resting heart rate and blood pressure in response.
Here are healthy ways to hit the reset button, and dial down your blood pressure:
Learn (your own) body language. If you’re the type who doesn’t realize you’re tense until the pencil snaps in your hand, pay more attention, says Michael McKee, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Psychiatry and Psychology and author of Stress and Your Body, And What to Do About It. Practice stopping each time you look at your watch or hang up the phone or check your e-mail, and see how your body is doing. Is your neck tight? Is your stomach churning? Are you clenching your fists? These are all signs that something is making you and your body unhappy. You can do wonders for your body, your blood pressure included, simply by telling yourself, “I can leave my body out of this.”
Breathe! When we feel stressed or angry, we tend to hold our breath, which increases carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Studies at the National Institute on Aging have found that the extra carbon dioxide is associated with a higher risk of sodium-sensitive hypertension. Your remedy: the simple act of remembering to breathe — slowly, deeply, from the belly.
Slow, deep breathing has a bunch of positive biological effects. “It seems to work like exercise for the heart,” says Dr. McKee. That’s because it restores something called optimal heart-rate variability, or the difference between how fast your heart beats when you inhale and exhale. You want it to beat just a little faster when you inhale, and breathing slowly from the belly gets you there. “It keeps the heart strong, and it’s associated with feeling calm and good,” says Dr. McKee.
Here’s how to do it: Put a hand on your belly. If it doesn’t move out and in when you breathe, you’re not belly breathing. Use a clock with a minute hand to time your breaths. Aim for six breaths a minute, 10 seconds a breath. Inhale slowly for three or four seconds (your belly should expand, or push out). Exhale (your belly should fall, or push in) more slowly for six or seven seconds. Pause and repeat. Keep it up until you feel yourself relax.
Enhance the effect: Clear your mind of worried thoughts and deepen your relaxation by repeating a soothing word to yourself with each exhale (such as one, peace, love, life, healthy) or imagining yourself in a tranquil setting (your cozy bed, a sun-drenched beach). Conjure a beautiful image to focus on, or see the smiling face of someone you love. Tell yourself, “My muscles are relaxing and my heart is slowing.” Or visualize your blood vessels widening, your blood flowing well and your blood pressure going down.
Perfect your technique: Do a few minutes of belly breathing as many times during the day as you like. Try to fit in a 15-minute session early and late each day to build your skills. Clearing your mind isn’t easy at first. If you’re new at it, just try to notice when you get sucked back into your thoughts, tell yourself, “I can think about that later,” let the thought float off, and return to your focus. Don’t be discouraged if you have to do this a lot at first, says Dr. McKee. You’ll improve with time. Observing our thoughts also helps us see how unnecessarily stressful (“This is a disaster!”) many thoughts are, which can help blunt their effect.
Look on the bright side. A study in Circulation found that optimistic women had lower rates of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, diabetes and death than pessimistic women. Researchers aren’t sure whether a positive outlook motivates us to take better care of ourselves or has direct health benefits. Either way, being upbeat has upsides for your health. If you tend to see the glass as half-empty, try this: Once a week for a month or more, list three things you’re grateful for and spend time contemplating what makes them possible, suggests Thomas Morledge, MD, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Thankful for your health? Think about what keeps you healthy. Thankful for a strong relationship? Think about how you manage that. Evidence suggests that this simple act to cultivate gratitude can be a powerful antidote for anxiety and depression.
Turn to Mother Nature. Something got your blood boiling? Go for a drive in the country. Take a walk in the park. Sit on your back porch and gaze at the grass, trees and sky. Feel better? Of course you do. It’s called the biophilia hypothesis, and it holds that, having evolved in nature, we humans are programmed to relax in soothing, savannah-like settings. Our sympathetic nervous system powers down, our parasympathetic nervous system powers up, our heart rate slows, our muscles relax, our blood vessels dilate, and our blood pressure falls.
Laugh — a lot! Researchers at the University of Maryland found in a 2005 study that when people watched a movie clip that made them laugh, their blood vessels dilated. When they watched one that made them anxious, their blood vessels tightened up. The researchers weren’t sure why, but the change in blood flow was marked enough for them to conclude that 15 minutes of laughter a day is “probably good for the vascular system.” Now, researchers at California’s LomaLindaUniversity report that people with type 2 diabetes who watched something that made them laugh for 30 minutes a day were much healthier a year later than those who didn’t.
Stress: Brush it Off
Stress is a part of the present life. There could be many reasons for the stress: Financial problems, family problems, and sickness of somebody in the house or your own temperament.
Stress can increase our energy and alertness, if it is in smaller doses. If STRESS exceeds our ability to cope with it then very slowly it starts affecting our complete body systems.
Initial symptoms could be reflected in the form of anxiousness, nervousness, distraction, excess worry or internal pressure. If these problems are not attended properly, it may soon turn into severe headache, depression, loose motions, high blood pressure or hypertension.
How about understanding the affects of stress on our body?
We have certain established beliefs in our subconscious mind. Anything different may convince us to believe the circumstances as stressful. Such situation causes the movement of our body cells into protection mode. The result is an increase in heart rate, blood getting diverted to muscles. The cells are unable to accept the supply of oxygen. The cells do not absorb nutrients, do not properly eliminate waste products and do not function the way they normally should. They start getting weaker and open to disease. The immune power of the body also gets weaker.
Similar situation arises when we are shocked, worried or excessive anxiety is caused due to angry Boss or a shouting spouse. Stressful life could be another reason for such situations.
It is very important that we must try to come out of such situation. Stressful condition for a smaller period does not harm the body but if the situation persists for a longer period. Then it may cause a bigger harm which could not be avoided.
Ways to avoid stress:
Try to identify the reason of stress. Seek advice and help from your family and friends to find a solution.
Maintain a positive outlook
Go for regular exercises
Spare time for events which you enjoy, on regular basis.
Regular rest and sleep is very important for the body relaxation.
Meditation could be one of the dependable ways of achieving relaxation of complete body. Easier way could be: Select a peaceful place. Think of anything which you find interesting. It could be your girlfriend/boyfriend, your children or anything which you love to think about. Close your eyes and start thinking about it. Idea is to limit your thoughts within a smaller circuit. You may sit in that position for 15-25 minutes. When you get up, you will find it very relaxing.
Corpse posture is also very relaxing. You lie down on your back, on a mattress. Feel that toes of your feet are completely relaxed. Think of lower legs being relaxed. Think of your both legs which are completely relaxed. Think you body is completely relaxed. Think your both arms are relaxed. Finally let your head stay in a completely relaxed posture. Lie in that position for 20 minutes. When you get up, you will find your body filled with new energies.
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