Guest Blog By Dr. Kari Williams, RMA (AMT), CPT (NHA), CET (NHA), BS, DC
Dr. Kari Williams has been involved in education for more than 20 years. She has taught many clinical and diagnostic courses at Life University College of Chiropractic (Georgia); currently teaches for the Health Science Department at Purdue Global University; and is the program director for Medical Office Technology at Front Range Community College in Longmont.
Stress is a necessary reaction of the body to challenges and has become an everyday part of life. The body’s reaction is often referred to as “fight or flight.” No matter the stressful situation, the body will respond the same way. According to The American Institute of Stress, the history of the stress response goes way back to our ancient ancestors. When faced with a threat, the body will undergo a variety of changes to prepare to run from or get ready for a fight. In today’s society, it doesn’t matter if the stressor is a bear, a fire close by, COVID-19, or family interactions. The body is going to react in the same way. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the release of adrenaline and other hormones that cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Blood flow will be diverted from surface areas and the digestive system and sent to skeletal muscles for the “fight or flight” reaction. Over time, too much of these hormones can affect your blood pressure, weight, and mental health.
What can we do to manage stress?
There is a multitude of suggestions for reducing stress. Below you will find six tips to calm your overactive mind and body in as little as 15-minutes.
- Why? Activities that require focus and thought often take your mind off of stressful situations. Engaging in complex video games or puzzles can reduce stress and sharpen your brain. Physical activity produces endorphins (feel-good natural painkillers) that reduces tension, improves mood and sleep, and improves self-esteem.
- How? You don’t have to be a kid to find something enjoyable to do for a short amount of time. Go to a driving range, put a few pieces into a jigsaw puzzle, look for adult coloring books or Play-Doh®, join a team league or exercise class (remotely if necessary), play cards, board games, or explore online games like Candy Crush.® Try rebounding with a mini-trampoline and bounce away some stress (that’s right, besides being NASA-approved, rebounding is a fun form of low-impact aerobic exercise). No matter the task, be sure to put some playtime into your schedule. Make it happen!
- Why? According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter causes short- and long-term changes in your body. Laughing increases the intake of oxygen-rich air and stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles. Laughter causes the release of endorphins in the brain, boosts your immune system, stimulates circulation, and helps those tense muscles relax. This cumulative effect relieves pain and improves your mood.
- How? Find ways to bring more laughter into your life. Find simple things that make you giggle like funny photos or comic strips. Watch funny programs, find funny YouTube videos, watch stand-up comedians, tune in reruns of The Carol Burnett Show or MASH, read funny internet blogs like The Oatmeal, Buzzfeed, Reddit, Unlimited Choice, and Funny or Die. Want to try something really silly? Look up laughter yoga. It will seem forced at first, but it will soon turn into fully involved belly laughing.
Spend time with animals
- Why? The National Institute of Health found that interacting with animals decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, and lowers blood pressure. Animals can reduce loneliness, provide social support, and improve mood.
- How? Interacting with animals has been proven to reduce the level of cortisol and blood pressure. Get a pet or find a way to spend time with animals. Volunteer at an animal shelter to walk dogs or pet cats, volunteer to pet sit, or volunteer with organizations like Infinite Wisdom Equine Center in La Junta to spend time with horses.
- Why? Research shows that meditation calms the mind and improves sleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation can also help lower blood pressure, reduce weight, and overcome unhealthy food addictions.
- How? It is easier than you think and will help improve brain function and make you more resistant to stress. Sit up straight in a comfortable chair. Notice everything about your body and position. Feel and focus on your breathing. Take deep breaths in and out, expand your belly, exhale slowly. Notice when your mind wanders and return your attention to breathing. Set a time limit and close with a gentle return to the present. Click here for an easy-to-use free mobile app.
Find a Hobby
- Why? Hobbies give us an outlet for stress and are something to look forward to at the end of a stressful week. It is an opportunity to be creative, artistic, and expand skills. Learn a new skill and make some fun personalized crafts in the process.
- How? Get inspired on Pinterest, YouTube, or check out books from the library. (Many libraries now offer extra services to minimize COVID19 risk; call yours and ask!). Hobbies can be quite varied and include educational travel, volunteerism, book clubs, photography, knitting, genealogy, gardening, writing, playing music and singing, painting and drawing, scrapbooking, and so much more.
Adopt Healthy habits
- Why? Eat, drink, and exercise in a way to optimize your health and reduce stress. Exercise can release those feel-good endorphins. Alcohol and caffeine cause higher amounts of cortisol to be released. Alcohol is a depressant that alters hormone balance and changes the way the body responds to stress. Caffeine is a stimulant and can induce anxiety. Drinking more than 4 cups of coffee per day can lead to mood highs and lows.
- How? Avoid drinking too much alcohol, consuming a lot of caffeine, or eating excessive sugar. All of these items can compound stress. It is hard to avoid comfort foods and drinks when facing stressful situations. Stock up on these alternatives to ward off stress: herbal tea (lavender and chamomile are common for relaxation), dark chocolate in small amounts for antioxidants and mood-enhancing indulgence, avocados offer high levels of stress-busting omega-3 fatty acids, and nuts for B vitamins. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Make time to go for a 30-minute walk every day. If it is too cold outside, try doing a few chair-yoga moves.
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Want to “geek out” on some of the scientific resources cited in this article? Here you go!
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (nd). Understanding the Facts: Physical Activity Reduces Stress.
- Mayo Clinic (2019, April 5). Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke.
- National Institutes of Health (2018, February). The Power of Pets: Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions.
- Horton, Jenn (nd). Does Meditation Help You Lose Weight?
- Cleveland Clinic (2020, October 12). Stress: 10 Ways to Ease Stress.