Hey there! I put together a post that I thought was pretty necessary when I look around at friends and family and how they deal with stress... most of them don't! I can visibly see the signs followed by the inevitable fallout from having too much going on with them. Whether it's coming from breakups, situations at work, or frustration with trying to make things work, the effect on the body and mind is one in the same. (BTW, if you want to know how to get that stuff done faster, checkout this post on it.)
I'm going to be covering just about everything there is to know about this topic from some of the science behind how stress is created, the effect on the body, why it can be good, and all kinds of ways to get over it.
I'm going to attempt to keep this as simple as possible, so hang with me here! I believe it's always good to know the nature of things so that we can better equip ourselves to help better ourselves.
So, the hypothalamus. Heard of it before? Probably at some point! But as a reminder, it is an organ located within the brain. It's not all that big, but it's effects on the body are profound! It's responsible for, basically, keeping our body in tune with our environment by telling our different hormonal glands what to produce. So if there's a stressor like a dog that starts barking or someone coming at you with a knife, you better believe your hypothalamus is going to start yelling at your glands to fight or flee! (Fight or flight, coming back to you yet? ;))
Hormones are produced by those glands. All kinds, but the ones responsible for stress are Adrenaline and Cortisol. Everybody knows adrenaline, that's responsible for raising your heart rate, blood pressure, and getting your body ready to utilize energy. Cortisol on the other hand is a lot less commonly known and, arguably, has more to do with stress due to the fact that it can always be flooding the body given the right environment.
Cortisol does a lot of stuff that's necessary, all of it having to do with shutting down unnecessary actions in the body so that you can deal with a perceived threat. That's good!... Unless you live in the real, modern world where that kind of stuff rarely happens. Most of the stressors we have nowadays just have to do with living in society, like having enough money for rent or even driving in hectic traffic.
Which brings us to the question...
Everyday events in modern living tend to make our bodies continue to pump out stress hormones all day. Our bodies were designed to handle stress in short bursts, like hunting animals or running from threats. Wham bam and done, the body would then be able to break down those hormones and replace them with calming and repairing ones!
There are a lot of problems associated with too much cortisol (more like all of them, but that's more of an opinion).
Got your attention yet?! Good! Because now I'm going to throw a curve at ya! 😉
"But Taylor, you just got done telling us all about why they're bad for us!"
Yes, yes I know, I'm being two-sided here, but hear me out! Cortisol is needed for dealing with inflammation in the body. Kind of funny how it's a really destructive hormone, yet it also acts as the firefighter by extinguishing the 'fires' within the body. This is part of the reason that exercise is great for the body! It causes a large dosing of cortisol that is great for easing the body's pain, however it is then necessary to reduce the hormone as quickly as possible (more on that later). And of course there's also the fact that if you're working on creating an extra income for yourself, working on finishing projects, or just pushed to get work done, stress is good and maximizes your energy use!
So yes, having a bit of stress in your life is good for you, genuinely good, but not all the time! Which then brings us to my second point in this section that, honestly, sucks.
Some people are naturally very easy going! For whatever reason whether its genetics, the way they grew up, the people they surround themselves with, or the mindset they've created, some people are able to handle more and/or get rid of stress more easily!
I personally flip flop when it comes to stress. I grew up in a very hostile, toxic environment, so I learned to adapt to conditions. I can handle huge amounts of stress where most people I know break, but only for so long. Then I need to recharge for a week or so to gather myself again, so there's an up and downside to it.
Homework! Figure out how you personally handle stress, write it down, notice triggers, whatever, just do it! Then you can utilize the methods ahead to help calm your body and mind.
Alright I'm going to go over a lot of pretty basic ways to handle stress that are, for the most part, zero cost or super cheap. All of these are focused around the idea of resetting the brain. Easiest comparison to make is that the brain is a computer. Our modern stress overheats our system to the point where it starts glitching out and breaking down, leading to mental and social problems. Overtime disorders will be created out of this.
So these different exercises will "cool down" your brain and get it to stop being in overdrive. Sound good? Here we go!
I'm guessing you probably could have seen this one coming, although maybe not. This is one of those things that is overlooked all the time! To be honest, reading this as an outsider, I would probably just shake my head and keep moving down the list... Unless you've actually tried it.
Okay now I'm not saying to go climb a freakin' mountain or walk through a forest, or even to go anywhere that's isolated from people. That might help, marginally, but it's not necessary, so don't believe all those people who say you need to go camping in order to "find yourself" again! Most of us can utilize our resources to take extra relaxing time throughout the week, but don't fool yourself into thinking you need to go out of your way taking time off to relax.
Next bit on this is time. I don't know how long you need to walk for! I take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. (Seriously!) Again, find out how much stress you can handle and then just listen to your body. After taking a couple walks a week or however much you can handle you should be able to figure out what you need.
Mentality is the last and most important bit that people seem to miss. You can't be walking with the idea of losing weight AND de-stressing. Go ahead, fight me on it, I don't care! Going in with a goal of anything other than enjoying your own company will lose the benefits to be gained. Now, if you have been doing it a long time and it's a habit, different story! That's fine, but at that point you probably don't need my advice on that anyway. ;P
This one is probably the most obvious, but there's a lot of... well, I would argue there's a lot of stigma around it. From what I've seen, there seems to be a lot of two-sidedness to it where people are either almost obsessive about it or are very against it. So you get the hippies and super guru-esque people that can talk for hours about how great it is, but fail to understand that not everyone can spend that much time meditating.
So the point I'm getting to is that meditation is, like with walking, all about mindset. You get out what based on what you think you'll get out. So in meditation to get the benefits it provides (which is damn near everything, in case you never looked at it closely), you have to approach it with a mindset of... well... not really anything! If you try to do it with a belief that you'll feel better, you kind of miss the point of meditating.
Meditation is all about finding your center. Coming back to your roots mentally and emotionally so that you can be less scattered. So the best way I've found to do this is to expect nothing from it. Just try meditating without any expectations, just do it for the sake of enjoying the silence, quiet music, or even guided meditation, whatever suits you.
Oh and the other bit about this is time. Once again, up to you and how you feel. You might just need 10 minutes, but maybe longer. From time to time I meditate, although I do prefer my more active form of meditation that is walking, however I always found that when I start it helps to start with short 5 or 10 minute sessions to get used to it. Otherwise I get kinda twitchy and can't sit still any longer, but your mileage will vary.
Well this one is pretty easy! A lot of people already do this, but it's super effective for venting stress. By having a creative outlet you can express yourself and your feelings. Obvious, right? When you're working on something you enjoy you can bring in more healing and relaxing hormones.
The other side effect this has versus other methods is that, depending on the outlet you choose, you can dig deep into the things that are stressing you out most. This is great because you can figure out what it is in your environment that's stressing you out and deal with it. It's kind of a tricky concept to explain, more easily experienced than told. For instance, if the hobby brings you outside or around others, maybe your job or home environment is stressing you out too much and you need to do something about it. Not everyone will notice it, but it's something to think about.
I struggle with this one. I'm very much an introvert and tend to push people away. I've always done this and I use to think it worked for me, but in the past couple years I've found out that it was actually hurting me. Spending time with other people is probably one of the best things you can do to relax... The issue being that those people need to be positive.
I flipped it around and now I try to spend some time every couple days with close friends. I've found that the key is in quality over the quantity, as well as finding people you can actually relate to. The other thing is that if you really can't spend much time out with people, try to find a community online that you can talk with. It's not going to benefit you quite as much, but it can be great if they are people that are interested in the same things as you!
Now for those of you that already do any of the methods above and don't see them improving your stress levels, or if you want to try something that might benefit you more, these are for you!
So instead of opting to suggest pharmaceuticals right off the bat, I would advise you to look into supplements and vitamins that could help you. Now there's too many for me to talk about here, but I'm going to go over a couple big ones that tend to help people most! (*Disclaimer* Oh and because I need to mention this for legal reasons, please talk to your doctor(s) first before taking any of these, just in case they conflict with any medications you're currently taking.)
L-Tyrosine: This is an amino acid that can be created by the body or eaten. There are a lot of things that it does for the body, but the main thing it effects is the thyroid. The thyroid is responsible for creating many of the hormones within the body. Having extra L-Tyrosine acts as a support for the gland and can allow the thyroid to function better. Besides helping with stress, it might also help with lethargy, anger, depression, anything hormone based. The only downside is that some people may find that it actually makes the thyroid function worse, however the thyroid jumps back to normal within a day or so after not taking the supplement. I suggest the Now brand for this (Well, I always suggest them. Now is the cheapest and most pure supplement company I've found). Click here to get the kind I have used.
5-HTP: Another naturally occurring amino acid, however this one is a precursor. It is used in the body to create both seratonin and melatonin. The main benefit to be had here is mood support. Many people find that it helps with depression and anxiety, as well as sleep in some people, all of which directly and indirectly help with de-stressing! Oh and also, most people suggest taking this with GABA because it helps the 5-HTP cross blood-brain barrier. This allows it to work much better. Click here to get the 5-HTP and here to get the GABA I've used before.
Mood support blend: Alright, so the thing here is that there are a lot of these blends out there. And I mean a ton! Some are good, some aren't, but they tend to have some similarities, some don't. Some work better for some people than others, totally depends on the individual, so experimentation is key if you want to find a supplement that works. I won't bother to suggest one here, instead I'd advise you to just browse Amazon (links above take you there) and find one or two that sound good based on reviews and try them out. I personally haven't used any blends, as I found the above two supplements to work great, but go ahead and experiment!
I put this one down here because they tend to not be free and aren't always available to people. I feel like people tend to kind of get stuck in their little world of work, family, and friends and then forget to go out and experience the world!
Every time I go out to an event whether it's a concert, an art show, whatever, I almost always feel relieved afterwards. For the next few days I feel invigorated to get stuff done and ready to take challenges on! So try it!
I would look around in your area for any concert venues, galleries, and show hosting places. Mark them down and check up on them from time to time, you never know what might pop up! If you see something good, write it on a calendar and go do it!
Next up is something that's relatively free, just involves purchasing the equipment. Now this is something that is probably new to a lot of people, but it's something that has really gained a lot of traction in the fitness world. Oh and the best part is that it's not just a fad! There's actually a great deal of science behind why it works. It's basically a method of self-massage.
Within the body there's the muscles, joints, bones, ligaments, etc. Well right under the skin is stuff called fascia. It's a connective tissue that holds those things together and is involved in all movement. This stuff takes a beating all the time and is affected by stress, whether it's emotional or physical (via mind-body connection). Normally, it will stretch back to a relaxed state, but sometimes the stress stays with it and keeps it in a constantly restricted state. Restricted fascia can cause pain in the body and can even be the source of emotional pain for some people. Kind of interesting how the body can hold on to trauma, isn't it?
Anyway, foamrolling is a form of myofascial release, which sounds more complicated than it really is. It's just massaging specific muscles to relax the fascia and ease the stress. After anywhere from a few days to a few weeks it's common for people to see huge changes in how relaxed and happy they feel. I personally cured my lower back and neck pain with it, so I know it works and I love it!
There's only a few tools that really stand out. There are all kinds of specially made ones online, but I have a sneaking suspicion that most of those are junk and no better than the options I suggest below:
One last thing on this topic... don't go get these and just start massaging haphazardly! You could hurt yourself or just waste time. You can look online elsewhere for guides one how to do it, however I suggest The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. I used it myself to fix my problem areas, as well as to help deal with stress. That's me holding the book below, by the way!
Well, now we get to the last option to really help dealing with stress. This could include everyone from therapists, homeopaths, and psychologists among others.
Having someone to talk to and/or getting subscriptions can help tremendously, however I would suggest trying the above options first to see if you can solve the issue of dealing with stress without shelling out much cash.
Well I hope this guide has helped you! I really want this to be something that can be used as a reference for dealing with stress. I enjoyed writing this and hope you enjoyed reading it and, hopefully, learned something from it!
If you did enjoy this, please feel free to share it or drop a comment below! Or advise me on other methods I didn't mention. Or even criticism, that works too. 😉