Stress. It’s Bad.
Unfortunately, we all experience stress during some times in our lives. What with busy schedules, homework, paper deadlines, project deadlines, work, clubs, ministries, friends, and just life, it’s amazing to me sometimes that some of us even make it through the day. Juggling all of those things without dropping one or four is difficult. It’s stressful. Often times, a little bit of stress can be a good motivator—you know, the whole “I work better under pressure” bit—however, when stress isn’t managed well, it can have terrible effects on your body and mind.
In order to research adequately for this article, I recently attempted to watch National Geographic’s Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Needless to say, I did not get very far before I had to stop. The title alone is enough to scare anyone into never being stressed again. Or, if you are anxiety-prone, it could make you develop metastress, a phenomenon occurring when one becomes stressed about being stressed. That said, I decided to go the safe route and just Googled it. Unmanaged stress often will cause somatic symptoms, meaning that the psychological strain will manifest itself physically in the form of headaches, upset stomachs, higher blood pressure, or problems sleeping. Emotionally, it can make you irritable, anxious, and just downright unhappy. In addition to this, the hormones emitted when stress occurs can have long term effects that are damaging.
To help combat everyday stress so it doesn’t build up, I compiled a list of ways to manage stress as it comes.
Chances are you’ve heard this just shy of a million times. But it’s true! Any type of exercise is great for stress. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins that make you feel the physical effects of stress less. Exercise is also great for your overall health, and it increases self-esteem. If done consistently, exercise can also help give you more energy, lower general stress levels, and help you sleep better.
In order to be effective, it’s recommended that you engage in some sort of physical activity for thirty minutes every day. This could be taking a walk around campus, playing a lively game of racquetball, or pounding it out on the treadmill. Anything that gets you moving. It’s also recommended that you mix up the activities that you do and that you make a plan to do it consistently. Telling a friend can help keep you accountable and possibly provide you an exercise buddy. Keep it consistent, and keep it interesting!
Physical techniques are not limited to exercise alone. Breathing and tension relief exercises are quite helpful as well. Deep breathing is both calming and stabilizing, and it provides your body with the oxygen it needs to function. To take a deep, calming breath, start by first exhaling all of the air in your lungs. As you exhale, push your navel back into your spine: this ensures that you get all of the air out. Then, inhale slowly through your nose using your diaphragm. When your stomach has expanded to maximum capacity, exhale the same way you did before, making sure to keep the breath smooth and controlled.
The foods you eat also have a great deal of sway in how your body feels. Foods are endowed naturally with everything we need to function well. This pertains to stress management as well! Here’s a list adapted from WebMD about good foods to eat in order to cope with stress:
1. Complex carbohydrates. All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it’s best to eat complex carbs, which are digested more slowly. Good choices include whole-grain breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas, as well as old-fashioned oatmeal. Complex carbs can also help you feel balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels.
2. Spinach. This leafy vegetable is high in magnesium, which is great because too little magnesium may trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress. One cup of spinach goes a long way toward replenishing magnesium stores.
3. Oranges. As you know from any time you’ve ever had a cold, oranges abound in vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can curb levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system. In one study of people with high blood pressure, blood pressure and cortisol levels (a stress hormone) returned to normal more quickly when people took vitamin C before a stressful task.
4. Black tea. I know as college students we all love drinking coffee, but drinking black tea may help you recover from stressful events more quickly. One study compared people who drank four cups of tea daily for six weeks with people who drank another beverage. The tea drinkers reported feeling calmer and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after stressful situations.
5. Pistachios and Almonds. Pistachios and almonds are good sources of healthy fats. Eating a handful of pistachios or almonds every day may help lower your cholesterol, ease inflammation in your heart’s arteries and help protect you against the effects of stress. Also, almonds are chock-full of helpful vitamins: vitamin E to bolster the immune system, plus B vitamins, which may make you more resilient during bouts of stress such as depression. To get the benefits, snack on a quarter of a cup every day.
So there you have it, folks, a few easy things you can do to help yourself manage stress a little bit better. Although sometimes stress can really be an overwhelming weight, it’s encouraging to know that it can be controlled. As Christians we can be further encouraged by the fact that we don’t have to do everything on our own. We have a Savior who loves us and gives us the power and abilities to do everything we need to do. Along with these external tips, we can also remember to seek the Lord and give him our burdens.