THESE SIMPLE WAYS TO DESTRESS WILL IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
Recently, I missed a flight. Anyone who knows me would never expect that these words could come out of Cheryl’s mouth. I may be late to a birthday party just because… But when it truly matters, I am always there on time and very ready. On this day, I arrived at Eindhoven airport in good time. In fact, I was earlier than usual. I stood in front of the check-in desk, looked into my bag and to my greatest surprise, my passport was nowhere in there. I could visualize clearly the exact moment the night before when I placed my passport and ticket in my bag. So how did this happen? Still in disbelief, I looked in my suitcase and found nothing. Finally I had to accept it. Cheryl you will miss your flight. As I walked out of the airport, I had a flashback. I could vaguely remember taking the passport out of my bag on the same morning. Perhaps five minutes before I walked out the door and I placed it on the dining table.
To this very moment, I have no idea why I took my passport out of my bag. I can not give you a straight answer to that question besides the fact that stress had taken over me. I had always been of the believe that I can handle stress. But Medical school taught me better. We all can be overwhelmed by all the craziness in our lives. After all, we are only human. But there are proven ways to help you deal with stress effectively and I will be sharing some of these tips in today’s blog.
Cortisol – Stress hormone
Let us say hello to the stress hormone, Cortisol. Cortisol has many important benefits when in the right amount. This hormone produced by our adrenal glands regulates our blood pressure, blood sugar levels and also our mood. Too high or too low levels of cortisol is never a good thing. Stress however is associated with an increase in cortisol levels. This leads to mood swings, depression, anxiety and irritability. Increased cortisol levels are also found in individuals with “low resilience”. Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. People with low resilience have poorer coping skills. Interestingly, anger and a decreased functioning of our immune system are both linked to an increase in our cortisol levels. So high cortisol levels will make you more prone to infections and other diseases. And that is why you are advised to rest when you are ill; so you can build up that immune system.
Effective ways to help you de-stress
Research has shown that nature walks decrease rumination. Rumination is the focused attention on symptoms, causes, and consequences of our distress; rather than solutions. You are stuck in a loop of repetitive thinking which may lead to feelings of anxiety and inadequacy; sometimes also leading to depression. The research performed in Stanford University reports that “nature walkers showed decreases in rumination and in activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortices” which is the part in our brain responsible for rumination. Also have you heard of the term “forest bathing”? It refers to being in the presence of trees. This simple practice is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce the production of cortisol, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being. Inhaling phytoncide (a substance emitted by plants) boosts our immune system and specifically enhances our Natural killer cells and anti-cancer proteins in lymphocytes.
Humour is an effective way to destress. While laughter will not cure all ailments, there are many benefits of laughter. It causes an increase of endorphins (the feel good hormone) in your brain. Laughter also stimulates your organs and soothes tension in your muscles which will help reduce some physical symptoms of stress. Laughter therapy is used in cancer centers around the world in combination to conventional cancer treatments and yields positive results with patients reporting numerous health benefits. So the next time you feel overwhelmed, watch your favorite comedian or hang out with that funny friend whose humour always gets you rolling in happy tears.
Exercise is good not only for our body but also our minds. Our brains secrete endorphins and serotonin; two feel good hormones when we exercise. Endorphin triggers a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Runners have described the runners high as a feeling of euphoria. Furthermore, exercising keeps us distracted from anxious thoughts. We also get a feeling of accomplishment after exercising. This gives us a good feeling of ourselves and boosts our self esteem. Of course there are physical benefits of exercising as well such as strengthening your heart, decreased blood pressure and body fat, increased energy levels, makes you look fit and healthy, just to name a few. If you cannot get yourself to go to a sports center, just workout at home or simply dance.
I remember how anxious I could get before exams. I had a fear of failure. It had to go right. Meditation was my best friend. Meditation is a practice of mindfulness which makes you fully aware of your thoughts and breathing. Being able to train your mind to meditate will have a huge impact on the way you deal with situations. Before exams I would meditate breathing out anxiety and breathing in calmness. I walked into exams feeling like I had taken some anti-anxiety medication (Lek uspokajający – as it is called in Poland). According to a Psychiatry Research at Georgetown University Medical Center, people who practiced mindfulness meditation had “sharply reduced stress-hormone and inflammatory responses to a stressful situation,” while those who took a non-meditation stress management course had poor responses. An amazing app I recommend is called Insight timer.
Spend some time with your pet
This may be unconventional to many but I find that my pet, Lulu really calms me down. There is something soothing about our little animal buddies. It is in the happiness they show when they see you. It is something in the quietness they offer when you need some peace. There is so much beauty in their companionship. “Multiple studies indicate that pets are powerful forms of stress relief, lowering not only blood pressure but also harmful stress hormones like cortisol, which is associated with depression and anxiety, and elevating beneficial ones like oxytocin, which is linked to happiness and relaxation”. There have been cases of patients allowed to interact with animals before surgery and this led to better outcomes. Pets offer a distraction thereby reducing anxiety levels.
Set goals and work on them
This is my personal favorite. We all have standards we hold ourselves to. Perhaps you set goals sometime in life and you have not reached them yet. We find ourselves in a downward spiral, just falling deeper and deeper. It is important to stop yourself and figure out what exactly is leading you down this path. A feeling of accomplishment makes you feel better about yourself. Knowing that you are doing your best and not just letting life pass you by. Setting clear goals will help you with this. When we have so much to do, we fall into the temptation of doing nothing at all because it is all too much for our brains to handle. Clear and precise goals put us on a path of success and you can get work done one step at a time and in a precise order; rather than the chaos in our heads.
Sometimes, you need a break from the usual. Your brain needs some new stimulation. Have you been reading the same subject for four days, take a break and go for a nice long walk. Stress follows us everywhere. It is on our phone, on the television, in our own homes sometimes. Ditch your phone and other devices. Escape from the news from a moment. Just give yourself some time to feel great again. Cut the cord. Avoid emails. Take some time each day for yourself, even if it’s for just 10 or 15 minutes to escape from the world. Meditate, read your Bible, pray, give yourself some pep talk and listen to some nice music. You deserve it.
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what we have. A great thing about gratitude is the fact that it really can be learned. Having an attitude of gratitude will impact your life positively. I believe that we attract more of what we feel. Focusing on the things we are thankful for in our lives creates a feeling of appreciation, content and happiness. Which in essence will attract more good things to our lives and cause a positive loop. Sometimes we just need to look at all the blessings in our lives and say “Thank you God”. Doing this, you may suddenly realize that you have gotten through worse situations. You are reminded of the strength within you. A psychology research describes gratitude as being strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness; Helping people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.