Stress Less to Feel Your Best
Stress has an ever-increasing presence in our daily lives.
As professional and personal responsibilities increase, it can feel especially difficult to maintain a calm demeanor and prevent stress from clouding our heads.
Throw the current COVID-19 pandemic into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for overwhelming stress levels.
Stress is something we all experience at varying levels throughout our lives.
That is why it is critical now more than ever to take the time to learn effective stress management techniques that you can incorporate into your daily routine.
Dr. Les Phillips and the rest of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Team at EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region share some of their best stress management tips and tricks for reducing stress and maintaining a happier, healthier lifestyle.
What Is Stress?
Before we delve into how to manage stress, it is best to take a step back and first understand what stress is.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. This includes any type of minor or major challenge you face on a daily basis, such as school, work, decisions, or sudden events.
Stress affects everyone differently—its frequency, severity, and range of symptoms all vary from person to person. And not all stress should be considered bad; in life-threatening situations, stress can signal us to prepare or flee, and in demanding situations, it can motivate us to do our best.
However, chronic long-term stress can have negative impacts on your body’s immune, digestive, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. It can also lead to serious health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, or anxiety.
How Pain and Stress Are Connected
Aside from mental anguish, physical pain can also cause stress on both the body and mind.
The connection between pain and stress can be seen in the “pain roller coaster.” Dr. Phillips describes how people who repeat the pattern of over exerting their bodies then crashing the next day or more in order to recover. However, in addition to being quite stressful on the nervous system, the effects over time typically lead to deconditioning, progressive loss of functioning weight gain and increased pain. However, if people remain in “cruise control” and maintain a more modest, steady level of activity, their bodies will adapt to it and pain won’t crash their systems any longer, thereby reducing the levels of physical and mental stress they experience. In “cruise control,” one can then safely and incrementally increase the level of activity in a way that doesn’t stress your body and mind, and ultimately can decrease the sensitivity of the pain to activity.
Dr. Phillips is EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region’s resident Pain Psychologist. Pain psychology, which treats stress and associated pain as a biopsychosocial (biological, psychological, and social) condition, is the most holistic approach to treating all the different variations of stress. Mental, physical, and social stress are all interconnected and affect each other, so it is best to approach stress management from all angles to maximize your results.
Top Four Techniques for Effective Stress Management
Luckily, there are many simple, impactful ways to combat stress on a daily basis.
This easy yet powerful technique involves taking long, slow, deep breaths while gently focusing your mind on more calming, peaceful thoughts. Alternatively, simply following the breath with your mind has been shown to have considerable physiological and psychological benefits. For maximum effectiveness, close your eyes and sit in a quiet, serene environment where there are no distractions or other potential stressors. Breathe slowly and easily in through the nostrils as if you are “sipping” the breath in like a hot beverage. When you lose focus, and you likely will, simply redirect your attention to your nostrils and follow the breath in and out again. There are also many different breathing patterns that can calm you down or re-energize and invigorate you.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A great technique to combine with breath focus, progressive muscle relaxation involves focusing on one part of the body at a time. As you breathe in, you tighten a certain group of muscles; when you exhale, you release the muscle tension.Try starting with the arms and hands, up to the head and face, neck and shoulders, low back and stomach, then legs and feet. Or work from the feet up. You repeat as necessary in areas of the body that feel tense. This is a great one to unwind at bedtime.
One session of meditation can immediately reduce stress levels, but long-term practice can quite literally change your brain, thereby helping you better cope with future stressors.
To get the most out of your meditation session, find a space where you can sit comfortably with no distractions. You can close your eyes or gaze softly with your eyes open. Bring your awareness to your breath, feeling it flow in and out again. Choose an area of focus, for example the nostrils or the rise and fall of the abdomen or chest. While any sense experience can become the focus of your meditation, most commonly it is the breath. You may want to use “training wheels” to help get started, e.g. thinking “in” and you are inhaling and “out” on the exhale. There are many other meditation traditions from which to choose including, single focus meditations, those who use mantras, chanting, movement and even spiritual traditions. There is literally something for everyone in the meditation practices. Make your practice time small enough to be consistent at the beginning, even if it is only three minutes. Work your way up to 20 minutes at a time, ultimately even twice per day.
Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong
These three ancient techniques have been practiced for centuries and revered for their calming and centering effects. They combine rhythmic breathing with various, flowing positions.
Yoga is a mind-body exercise that combines muscular activity with intentional self-focus on your mind, breath, and energy. Although there are different types of yoga, the practice generally involves syncing your breathing while holding poses of varying difficulty for an extended period of time.
Tai Chi is a healing form of martial arts. It combines intentional deep breathing with a series of slow, graceful movements performed while standing.
Qigong is an adaptable healing practice that is designed to focus on a certain goal. It focuses more on healing the “Qi” or “energy” aspect of stress. It focuses on coordinated body posture, movement, breathing techniques, and meditation. Tai Chi, a subcategory of qigong, focuses more on the entire body.
Melt Away Stress With EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region
There are many more stress management techniques one can practice, and the EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region team is standing by ready to welcome and help Triangle Region residents manage their stress levels in a more productive, effective manner. Stay tuned for our holiday stress management tips.
To learn more about which stress management practices are best for you, schedule an appointment now. Or, call us any time at (919) 220-5255.