In this wonderful world of instant gratification and being tuned in 24/7/365, who doesn’t need a little stress relief!? It’s kind of a no brainer right? We’re basically all expected to be ultra productive human beings for 8+ hours at work, come home to deliciously organic meals, workout for 60mins a day, keep a clean house, maintain healthy social relationships, have regular sex, and get 8 hours of deep sleep per day.
You can add and subtract whatever your specific priorities/demands are into that equation. Whatever your specific schedule demands, it’s easy to look at that and think “I’M STRESSED!”
Stress isn’t always bad though. “Wait, Monika, I’m trying to read about stress relief and you’re saying it’s OK?!”
Right, and I’ll totally get back to that, but bear with me for a moment here. Back in the caveman days, stress is what kept you alive. It's the chemical process that flooded our human brains to make sure we ran away from predators, found shelter in bad weather, and paid attention to our screaming babies.
Seriously, the stress system isn’t this awful demon. It activates our “Fight or Flight” response and that kept our species going. It also helps us to get work done for deadlines and prepare for hurricanes. Y’know what the problem is?
Most of us are no longer running from Mastodons and trying to create shelters. Our stress system is now activating from work, social interactions, and our perceived failures. There are 2 big problems which have come around.
#1 the stress system is part of your “old brain” and it doesn’t understand the difference between stress from a Liger about to eat you and stress from an exam or work deadlines.
#2 Our stressors are now with us all the time. While I don’t have a time machine (yet), I’m pretty sure that cavepeople weren’t constantly running for their lives and living in fear. So the stress system would turn on when necessary and then turn off. But our “mastodons” of the 21st century are always available.
Maybe you work a high stress job that takes up the majority of your day. Now that “fight or flight” system is on for 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. This is no bueno! When that system (known as the sympathetic nervous system) kicks on it increases your senses, blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, and stops digestion to send more blood to your muscles. Mentally you may feel on edge and always on the lookout for “the next thing.” All these responses are great when the goal is to figure out if you should throw down or run away as fast as you can. But it’s clear they aren’t all that useful when you’re trying to take a test or talk to a customer right?
Living in this perpetually ON mode increases your risk of heart disease, impairs cognitive function, and can affect your immune system. Stress can also amplify sensations, like pain. Have you ever worried yourself into a headache? Or had a headache, and started stressing, which made your headache worse? That’s the concept!
So what can you do about this? REDUCE THE STRESS. And just like hygiene, this should be repeated daily. It’s not enough that we do sporadic stress reduction. Sure, there’s the night where you’re home alone, light the candles, run a bubble bath and drink some wine. Most of us don’t do that every night. And we think it’s ok. "I don't have time to relax." Even worse, we brag about who is more stressed out.
How did this become okay!? When did we as a society decide that overwhelming stress and anxiety are status symbols of a busy and productive life? It's not okay! Mental health should be a priority, not an afterthought.
So how should you relieve stress? Here's a small list of ideas, that is by no means exhaustive.
* Meditate (I love using the “Calm” app)
* Go for a walk
* Watch cute puppy videos
* Watch a funny video
* Talk to a friend
Whatever methods you use, remember that the biggest take away here is that you need to do it frequently. Stress relief is like bathing - it should be performed daily!