According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2011, 44% of American’s reported suffering from moderate to high stress levels. When it comes to your health it is important to be aware of your stress level and how it affects your body and overall wellbeing. But what is stress? Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. Deciphering what triggers your stress and can help you manage its effect on your life and prevent unhealthy habits. Here are some examples of physical symptoms of stress:
- Uncontrollable muscle spasms
- Pain in back/shoulders
- Shortness of breath
- Poor quality sleep
- Chronic fatigue
- Restless legs/feet
- Repetitive joint cracking
- Nail biting
- Binge eating
- Does not eat at all
- Cold sores/hives
All of these symptoms are caused by what is called a “stressor” and once you’ve targeted your stressor and the specific symptoms related to it, you might find it a lot easier to manage and possibly prevent them. For example, feeling like there isn’t enough time in the day to complete activities can cause anxiety (which is a form of stress). Feeling anxious can cause a multitude of symptoms including many of the symptoms listed above. These symptoms can easily become a slippery slope and affect a person’s ability to fight infections and diseases and reduce a person’s overall health and the quality of life experienced.
So, what can you do to help reduce the amount of stress in your life? Here is a list of activities/exercises to try:
Deep Breathing Exercises: Inhale four seconds through the nose, hold the breath for four seconds, and then exhale as slowly as you can for at least six seconds. This pause in breathing helps relax the mind a body. Progressively increase the length of time of the inhalation and exhalation.
Stretching to Improve Postural Alignment: Take ten minutes each day to concentrate on stretching out your body, focusing mainly on your neck, back, and shoulders (since this is where most people feel tension when they are stressed). Stretching can help relieve pain and relax tense muscles that can be easily triggered by a stressor.
Exercise: The human body is designed to work best when it is active. Getting the proper amount of exercise is imperative for sustaining good health and is a major factor in disease prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that healthy adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week along with at least two days of muscle-strengthening activity (However, these general guidelines define only the minimum that you need).
Get Enough Sleep: I know it may be difficult for some people but try to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Good-quality sleep is essential for managing stress and maintaining good health. Sleep deprivation can lead to cloudy thinking, impaired memory, lack of motivation, irritability, etc. and is a major cause of stress.
Proper Diet: Dietary changes are important because unhealthy eating habits can greatly contribute to stress and pain. A good nutritional program is one that helps a person maintain or achieve ideal body composition while providing all of the nutrients essential for good health.
So again, the best way to prevent stress is to identify the stressor, notice the physical/emotional symptoms it is causing, try to “self correct” the problem, and practice the stress reduction activities/exercises to help prevent more stress in the future.
Elizabeth Brown is 22 years old born and raised in San Jose, California. Sheis a full time student in the process of transferring to San Jose State University to complete her Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology. As Bodybuilding.com’s 2012 Fit USA Winner, Fitness Model, Spokes Model for Bodybuilding.com’s upcoming B-Elite clothing series, NPC Bikini Competitor, and newly Certified Personal Trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, she aspires to build a career in the Health and Fitness industry to further help and inspire others to achieve their fitness goals.