Reduce stress levels and you’ll feel happier and healthier. The cause of stress for each of us may be very different, but the toll that stress takes on the body looks very similar in each of us. Stress is your body’s natural response to threats. It’s a built-in protection mechanism that helps you focus on and respond to immediate threats for your survival. Short-term stress can be beneficial because it helps you focus and solve problems, but long-term stress takes a toll on the body. When stress is long-term, and it lingers long after a direct stressor is gone, then it’s considered chronic.
Imagine that you’re hiking along, chatting with a friend or lost in the scenery, and up ahead of you on the trail you see a bear. Your body reacts before you’re consciously aware of the threat. It triggers the fight-or-flight response in an area of your brain that is responsible for basic bodily functions like breathing and digesting. Your heart rate goes up, as does your blood pressure and you start breathing more quickly. The muscles throughout your body tense up. This is your body preparing you to handle the perceived threat.
While your body is preparing to flee the threat or fight the bear, your body also goes into preservation mode. The goal here is to conserve energy and put everything it has in to keep you alive in face of the threat. Your body stops digesting your breakfast. It’s not worried about maintaining your immune system. Everything but survival goes out the window.
Modern Day Stressors can Build up
The stress response just described is the same response that your body has every time you feel stressed. It doesn’t matter if you’re feeling anxious about deadlines, money, or an upcoming presentation, stress has the same effect on your body. When this stress doesn’t go away, each stressor tends to build on the next, and not before long, the little things that didn’t formerly bother you trigger that stress response.
So, how do we fix this? The key is to work on stress management strategies. The more you work on these strategies the lower your stress levels are and the higher your threshold for stress becomes. This means that those little things that felt like they were piling up for so long don’t seem like such a big deal anymore. Here are three things to try to help you lower your stress level:
Reduce Stress Levels: Practice Mindfulness
At first, being mindful and present in what we are doing can be very challenging. But every moment can be an opportunity for practicing mindfulness. Start by building an awareness of your breath. You may have heard this before, but it really helps to ground you in your body. It’s also good to start practicing breath awareness in moments that are free from distraction. It can be hard to find moments like these in our very fast-paced world that is brimming with distractions, but before long you’ll learn how to manage all distractions.
Try reserving tedious tasks like doing the dishes or folding laundry for times when you can practice mindfulness. Practice this by focusing on your breath or the task at hand. Let any other thoughts pass through your mind. With practice it will be easy to remain mindful. You may even start to look forward to these chores.
Reduce Stress Levels: Start an Exercise Routine
Try to do an exercise like walking or running at the same time every day. Research shows that it takes about 21 days to form a habit. See if you can keep up your exercise routine long enough so that, before long, it becomes as habitual as brushing your teeth. A daily walk has many benefits for your overall health. It can even boost your mood too!
Reduce Stress Levels: Drink More Water
Drinking lots of water can help reduce your levels of the stress hormone cortisol by helping your adrenal glands function efficiently. Being dehydrated alone is enough to raise your cortisol levels. It makes sense, right? Water helps your body maintain all of its basic functions. If you don’t have enough fluids for it to do this then your body will be stressed, and your levels of cortisol will go up.
There are several factors that affect how much water your body needs. You should take into consideration your activity levels, your environment, and your overall health. For example, if you live in an area that is very dry and hot you will probably need to drink more water than someone living in a cooler climate. To learn more about how much water you should be drinking see this article.
For more information on the role that water has in our bodies see this article.