We all have stress in our lives. When stress builds up, it can manifest as damage to our bodies. The mind and body are intimately connected. When we don’t feel well in our head, our body’s organs can reflect that. Conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), tension/migraine headaches, and even nasal congestion (vasomotor rhinitis) can be related to our mental well being. I remember in school when a classmate of mine always got bad “tummy aches” and diarrhea around final exams. My recommendation is to try to recognize that you are stressed and release the tension in your mind on a regular basis. The mind is like a cup which has a certain capacity for stress. Too much stress added to that cup and it will overflow into other aspects of your body. For some people, they use substance such as drugs or alcohol to relieve stress. I strongly recommended against these as they are harmful for the body and create addiction. In fact, they have found that many people with alcohol dependence have untreated anxiety depression. They have turned to alcohol to self medicate their problems.
Here are positive ways to release stress:
- Meditate. I can’t say enough about meditation. We ALL need to be doing it on a regular basis.
- Exercise produces endorphins that help us to feel better and manage stressful situations. If you have a situation where you feel you don’t have an answer, go for a run around the block or in a park. The extra blood flow to the brain may even clear the cobwebs and allow you to find an answer to your problems.
- Talk to a therapist. Many of us hold preconceived notions about psychotherapy. Some people think it’s only for “crazy” people while others think it is a “waste of time and money” and they can do the same thing by talking to a friend or their mother. Here is the difference, when you talk to someone you know about your issues you will unconsciously censor yourself and not likely tell the whole truth. Let’s say you are having relationship issues with your partner and the issues are sex-related, would you be open about discussing that with your mother? Therapists provide anonymity and allow you to open up about your problems. And yes, they are professionals who have been trained to provide effective advice. Many people think they are alone in their problems, but most of our problems are not unique to us. By letting those issues surface during therapy, you will help yourself find the right answer. The great psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, was once asked why he had so many Roman antiques in his office. He said the antiques were like our deeply seated thoughts and memories. These vases were underground and preserved for thousands of years. When they were first unearthed, many still had original paint. However, after they were taken out from the protective soil, they start to degrade. They lose their structure and some will crack, chip, and painting will fade, just like our unconscious memories would if we allowed them to surface. What a profound analogy! We need to let go of our emotional baggage!
- Writing therapy. If you don’t have access to a therapist immediately, take out a pen and paper and start writing. When I was in high school in a creative writing class, we called this a “free writing session”. Keep your pen flowing, don’t stop for at least 30 minutes and write out everything on your mind. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or worry that someone will read what you write. Just write out the words. Getting those thoughts out can be cathartic. At the end of the 30 minutes, look at what you’ve written, acknowledge that you’re let it all out, then rip up and discard the paper.
- Art therapy. If you are artistically inclined, paint what you feel. Picasso had his famous “Blue Period” when he was having depression. Creating something with emotion is an effective outlet.
- Pet therapy. Pets provide unconditional love. Several studies have found that having pets can mitigate depression and anxiety. If you don’t have a pet, maybe you could pet sit for a friend.
- Experiencing nature. Seeing greenery, flowers, rivers, and lakes can be very soothing. I think it the animal part of our psyche that needs to see nature. If you have been living in the “concrete jungle” too long, maybe take a road trip to go hiking/running or if you don’t have too much time, go to a nearby park or waterfront. These are great places to do meditation and deep breathing exercises.
- Take a mental health day/vacation. If stress is building so much from work that it’s affecting your health, you may want to recharge your batteries by taking a day off. How functional will you be at work if your stress is occupying 100% of your brain? One of my favorite stories about Mahatma Gandhi’s life is when his assistant is reviewing his schedule for the day, which was particularly busy. The assistant suggested that Gandhi skip his usual one hour meditation session as there were other pressing agenda items. In response, Gandhi said, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.” It’s difficult to realize this but we need to recharge our batteries more often when we are in stressful situations. It is like when you use your cell phone for more hours or if you are doing many tasks on the cell phone in one day, you will need to recharge the batteries sooner than usual.
- Eat right, drink plenty of water, sleep right, avoid alcohol. All of these three things lead to a healthier lifestyle and help us to manage stress better. It is very important that when we are stressed out, it is even more important to keep healthy. Some people will “stress eat”, eating high fat foods when dealing with stress, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain and further lack of energy. Inadequate sleep during times of stress reduces our immune system’s ability to fight infection. Ever wonder why we are more likely to get colds and flus during stressful times in our lives? It’s not a coincidence.