What’s stressing you out? Chances are, it’s quite a long list: work, your kids, money, family and a whole host of other factors contribute to stress. But if you’re trying to reduce your stress by simply shutting out these stressors, you’re going about it the wrong way.
The way to deal with stress is not by trying to fix what’s “wrong” in your life, says Dr. Edward Leyton, a physician and psychotherapist in Kingston, Ont. Instead, we need to learn how to adapt and deal with those stresses we face on a daily basis to achieve true relaxation.
Human beings are hardwired to deal with stress in a certain way, says Leyton. “It’s the old story of the sabre tooth tiger who lives around the corner,” he says. “We come across the tiger in the jungle and our stress system is wired for us to expend energy in the face of that stress. It’s called fight or flight.”
In other words, our body is made so that if we’re stressed, we either physically fight our stressor or physically run away. The problem is most of today’s stresses are psychologically oriented, and you can’t start literally punching your way out of a problem like a demanding boss (no matter how much you wish you could!).
What happens when we get stressed is our adrenaline goes up, but we no longer have the physical release. We don’t expend that energy, therefore we get tense, causing things like tension headaches, pain in the jaw, grinding teeth and more. In the long run, holding in all that pent-up energy can contribute to serious health conditions, Leyton says.
The truth is we’re not going to be able to eliminate stress in our lives. Nor can we stop our physical fight or flight response to stress – in fact, Leyton says we don’t want to eliminate that response (it comes in pretty handy if you’re about to be run over by a car!).
Instead, Leyton recommends finding ways to manage your stress response, release the stress and relax so it doesn’t get pent up inside. Here are some of his best tips on how to relax:
Breathe deeply: Breathing deeply activates the body’s relaxation response, reducing the adrenaline caused by our fight or flight response. Most of us breathe far too shallowly, Leyton says. Take deep breaths from your diaphragm, pushing your stomach in and out.
Exercise: Exercise is a great stress reliever, Leyton says. “If you’re under stress and you’ve got that energy in your muscles, it is activating that stress,” he adds. Try a bout of vigorous exercise to release adrenaline and reduce stress.
Tune out and focus: Leyton says many of us can reduce stress by simply tuning out the information we’re bombarded with every day and focusing on one thing. He recommends finding a mantra or affirmation that helps you focus and repeating it while breathing to achieve relaxation. Meditation can also be helpful, he adds.
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.