Stress is the NEW Smoking: 7 Secrets to Manage Stress
In my last article I talked about stress, anxiety, and hidden emotions. This week I'd like to explore the body/mind connection of stress and how to combat it in our lives. But before we do that, just a reminder, not all stress is bad. Not everyone is stressed by the same stressors. It is a complicated process which means we can't give definitive answers to many of the general questions like: why do we get stressed or how can we stop it. What we can do is be aware of what is going on in our own minds and work toward mediating how that affects us.
Just in time for mental health awareness month, I've found there is more and more evidence linking stress to all manner of diseases. While there is a new catch phrase, "Sitting is the new smoking", I'd say stress is too. Since smoking has been on the decline for almost a decade now, and people are hearing all about eating right and exercise, we've gotten complacent in dealing with harmful influences to our health that are more insidious than one might first think. Not too mention harder to define and eliminate which makes them less researched. One of the best books on the subject of how bad stress is for you, is by Dr. Gabor Mate, "When Your Body Says No."
Here is some of what we do know. (Salleh M. R. 2008) "Studies have shown that short-term stress boosted the immune system, but chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that ultimately manifest an illness...The morbidity and mortality due to stress-related illness is alarming. Emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.
Since I could write pages on how stress affects our health but that would not give you any practical help, I'm going to skip all that and assume you believe me that stress is harming your health and instead jump to how to treat stress. Here are the 7 secrets to managing stress:
- Prayer combined with trusting in God and awareness of oneself (or mindfulness meditation)
- Healthy diet (plant based or Mediterranean is best)
- CBT Therapy (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy)
- Rest (sleep, recreation, etc.)
- Social activity (both social support & doing something for someone else)
- Identify and limit/reduce stressors
So these are not in any kind of order of importance, in fact, I recommend you start with the ones easiest for you so you can reap the benefits as quickly as possible. Each of these has many benefits beyond stress management and there is much that can be said of them. Years ago, like a couple decades, LOL, I helped with a stop smoking program and these 7 were used successfully in helping people to quit smoking too! Of course number 7 was identify and limit/reduce temptations/triggers but all in all very similar. I do have a free course that covers most of these called Optimal Health, you can take it here.
The first one on the list is often reported as mindfulness mediation in most articles on stress but Dr. Nedley and others have reworded this for Christians. And the research backs up prayer as the alternative to mindfulness meditation. Keep in mind this is not the same as the hypnotic meditation one sees in new age religions. It is an active form, where one is aware of what is going on around them. There is plenty of help out there and it's not my forte so I'll leave that to other experts. I'm more familiar with the Christian version. This is more than just prayer. It is a three fold combination: faith/trust in God, self-examination, and prayer.
Exercise is pretty self-explanatory, but I'd add that getting outside is even better. Any amount will help, but there is a thing as too much which can add stress to the body. If you are unsure, do some research or talk to a fitness expert. In general, the recommendations are 30 to 60 minutes 3 to 5 times per week. More for those with sitting jobs and obviously far less if you are a general laborer. We often know what we need once we are willing to honestly look at it.
Healthy diet includes lots of fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and limiting free fats, added sugars, and processed foods.
CBT, or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, is well researched and documented to help with stress even that caused by circumstances. It also helps deal with painful emotions. I would say this is by far THE MOST important tip, step, key, or whatever you want to call it. In fact many studies show CBT to be as or even more effective than drugs for depression and anxiety, and far more long lasting because drugs don't cure, they treat the symptoms. Once you learn to use CBT for yourself it lasts a lifetime. Now there are lots of resources out there and it can look pretty easy but there are some very important features that take real work to make practical for yourself, yet reading self help books such as Dr. David Burns, "Feeling Good", have been proven in research to be effective. In fact in one study more effective than taking drugs. Having said that not everyone will find relief reading a book, about 1/3 still needed professional help to really apply the principles of CBT, so no shame in talking to someone about that.
Rest is another important key in reducing the effects of stress as well as helping you cope better with stressors. Getting a good nights sleep, healthy recreation, and taking time to slow down even for just a few minutes a day are all great starting places.
Social activity not only helps you work through stressors like grief and loss, or life changing events, good or bad, but helping others is a proven way to improve your health. Volunteering has been shown to add up to 7 years to ones life and improve the overall quality of aging.
Lastly we have the most obvious of the 7 secrets, identify and reduce stressors. This one will take some introspection and you can combine it with the first one, prayer. Taking a few minutes each day to think about what caused you the most anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, fear, annoyance, feeling overwhelmed, etc. You might even find some things bother you more on certain days. Sometimes we can cope with circumstances better than other times. Keep track. Then are there some you can reduce? Are you spending more than you earn? What is contributing to your time management issues?
If you want more help with CBT or working out identifying and reducing stressors, join me for a free 15 minute consultation.
- Salleh M. R. (2008). Life event, stress and illness. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences : MJMS, 15(4), 9–18.
- Griffin, R. M. (n.d.). 10 Stress-Related Health Problems That You Can Fix. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems#1
- Agnvall, E. (2014, November 01). Stress and Disease - Conditions that May Be Caused by Chronic Stress. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2014/stress-and-disease.html
- Kandola, A. (n.d.). Chronic stress: Symptoms, health effects, and how to manage it. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323324.php
- Nordqvist, C. (2017, November 28). Stress: Why does it happen and how can we manage it? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/145855.php
- Kandola, A. (n.d.). Why do I keep getting sick? Causes and what to do. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324842.php