4 ways to manage stress

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Stress is a chemical reaction that protects us from threats, predators and aggressors. When we encounter a perceived threat – the car in front of us slams on its breaks – the hypothalamus in our brains prompts our adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, causing the fight or flight response. 

In the wild, this chemical reaction helps animals protect themselves from danger. If an antelope is startled by a lion, adrenaline increases the antelope’s heart rate, elevates its blood pressure, and boosts its energy supplies. Cortisol curbs nonessential functions – the digestive system, the immune system, and the reproductive system – that would impair the fight or flight response. This alarm system helps the antelope flee from the danger. Once the perceived threat has passed, the alarm system turns off and hormone levels return to normal. 

Though lions aren’t chasing us on a daily basis, for many of us, our fight or flight response is always turned on due to constant, ever-present stressors: deadlines, traffic, and mortgages. The overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones put us at risk for a multitude of health problems including depression, weight gain, and anxiety.

Learning to deal with stress is imperative as our health and overall wellbeing depend on it. Here are four tips to help manage stress:

Avoid the stressor

If possible, try to avoid people, environments and/or triggers that cause you to feel stressed. If being stuck in traffic makes you stressed, go to the gym after work then drive home after rush hour. Analyze your schedule and try to cut down on tasks that are at the bottom of your priority list. Know your limits and stick to them. Be assertive and say “no” to added responsibilities that you know will only burn you out.

Alter the stressor

If you can’t avoid the stressor try to alter it. Maybe the stressor is your coworker. Try to communicate with this person to change the behavior that is bothering you. Bottling up how you feel may only lead to resentment which can be damaging to you and to the relationship you have with the person who is causing you stress (ultimately leading to more stress!).

Make sure the door swings both ways. If you ask someone to change his behavior, be willing to do the same. Offer to meet the person halfway. You may not be able to change the behavior completely, but a small change is better than no change at all.

Adapt to the stressor

Sometimes, you can neither avoid nor change the stressor; however, you do have the power to change yourself. Try to see the bigger picture. Is your spouse’s dirty socks on the floor worth getting upset over? Will it matter to you in a day? A month?  A year? Can you adjust your standards to be more reasonable or realistic? Maybe you can’t convince your spouse to be as neat and tidy as you, but maybe you can adjust your standards and learn to be OK with the occasional dirty sock on the floor.

Accept the stressor                                   

Understand the difference between what you can and cannot change. Many things in life are beyond our control, particularly the behaviors of other people. Focus on what you can control so you can move on and focus your energy elsewhere.

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