Stress Relief for Optimal Physical and Mental Health
Written by Alyce Wellons, LCSW
It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” - Lou Holtz
We hear it all the time “ I am so stressed out” or “This stress is killing me.”
But what is stress exactly? The American Psychological Association (APA) defines stress as an experience that “occurs when you perceive the demands placed upon you – such as work, school, or relationships- exceed your ability to cope.”
Often stress can play a positive role in our lives like motivating us to push through in difficult work deadlines or tough moments in life.
But chronic untreated stress directly impacts our health by negatively affecting the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and central nervous systems. And this type of impact can cause negative physical and emotional consequences.
Further, stress left unchecked results in health conditions including “anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.” (APA)
The research shows that illnesses such as obesity, depression, and heart disease are also directly negatively impacted by stress.
Clearly there is a direct link between the stress we experience in our daily lives and our physical and mental health.
The good news is that when stress can be identified and managed, the negative impact on our health can be reduced.
Research has shown that there are proven ways we can manage our stress and increase our physical and mental health. As we are all different, what works for your partner or neighbor might not work for you. Part of your goal will be to find what resonates and works for you and begin implementing those behaviors into your daily life.
Here are top, proven ways you can manage your stress and increase your physical and mental well being:
Clearly, this is no surprise to anyone. The research is off the charts for the benefits of exercise on our physical and mental health. The tip here is to make it work for you. Do something that you are going to enjoy. If walking outside is your thing, great! If a yoga class is more your style, go for it! If you only have 20 minutes, no problem. Start where you are, you will get benefits no matter what.
Bonus: Being outdoors has a direct positive effect on our overall health in almost every dimension, so make your exercise outside to boost the experience!
You knew this was coming! Meditation is simply the act of sitting and allowing the 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day to come and go. Also thru gentle breath work, emotions and negative experiences stored in our body can shift and be released. During this practice, moments emerge when we feel a clarity arrive, and a sense of compassion and peace can be experienced. This one takes practice but the benefits are huge for our physical, emotional and spiritual health, all of which are directly connected to our sense of well being in the world.
Bonus: Patience, stick with it!
Light Smile at the Lips
Neuroscience validates that lightly smiling, lightly turning the lips up at the corner of the mouth, immediately sends a signal to the central nervous system that all is well. A light smile engages the parasympathetic nervous system, releasing positive neurochemicals into the body. You can add this practice any time you are feeling stressed, and into your exercise and meditation practice. But remember, your central nervous system is very smart, so don’t overdo the smile. The central nervous system recognizes when it is being played.
Bonus: Laughter and singing are also wonderful ways to disengage the sympathetic nervous system and engage the parasympathetic, flooding our brain with those positive neurochemicals naturally.
Get Some Space From What’s Stressful
Even if just for a moment. Often when we are in a stressful situation, it feels so much bigger than it actually is, we feel isolated from others, and it seems as if it might never end. By giving yourself a moment to step away, you can regain some perspective, engage in some of the stress reduction techniques you have been working on, and clear your mind. Even better if you can take more time, even a few days or a long weekend to gain some perspective and clarity.
Bonus: Connect with someone else to reduce the isolation, get support, and maybe a good idea!
Don’t Go Alone
We are wired for connection and community. When we share our worries, concerns, and lives with each other, it reminds us that we are not alone.
Make sure it is someone you can trust, and that will receive your concerns with an open heart.
Bonus: Make time to be there for someone else as well. Giving back has its own rich benefits.
Lavender Essential Oil
Our sense of smell has direct connections to our limbic system, specifically our amygdala and hippocampus, areas associated with emotions and memory. This means that the smell of lavender can directly impact our memory and mood in positive and calming ways. Buy the good stuff, 100% organic and pure, and use a few drops on your wrists, chest, temples, back of the neck, or simply inhale the fragrance for an immediate calming and relaxing mood. Wonderful to help with sleep or anxiety before a stressful experience. These oils are powerful, so go easy, and you may want to explore diffusing them or diluting them with a carrier such as coconut oil. Explore and enjoy!
Bonus: Safe, easy and portable, this oil is a powerhouse as lavender is antibacterial, antifungal, and includes antimicrobial and antioxidant properties It has been shown to also help treat anxiety, depression, hair loss and wounds!
The research is off the charts for the positive benefits of gratitude. People who express gratitude report fewer aches and pains, take better care of themselves, exercise more, follow up with healthcare, all of which contributes to longevity. It reduces toxic emotions, aggression, and increases self esteem and mental strength. Ways to add gratitude into your toolbox includes making a daily list of the things you are grateful for, telling the people in your life you are grateful for them.
Bonus: Want to get a better nights sleep? Make a gratitude list prior to falling asleep. Research shows this may relax the mind, helping you sleep better and longer.
Alyce Wellons, LCSW
Alyce is a psychotherapist, teacher, and writer. She maintains an in person and online practice in Atlanta, GA and NC as well as leads trainings and retreats all over the world.
Alyce employs mindfulness-based education for anxiety, depression, relationship issues, recovery, stress related to daily life, and other mental health issues. She has specialized training in Mindfully Based Stress Reduction and LifeForce Yoga. In addition to over 17 years of training and experience in the practice of psychotherapy, Alyce believes in the use of respectful humor and laughter as one of the most wonderful and connecting aspects of life, especially in navigating some of the difficult passages we face along the way.
You can check out upcoming events and schedule appointments on her website: www.alycewellons.com