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“Engage” Series Part 3: How To Handle Stress

Stress is more than a simple annoyance that pervades our days and makes us feel worried, anxious and on edge. Too much stress too often has the potential to negatively impact your health and happiness. Some amount of stress, of course, is necessary. It motivates us to meet deadlines and accomplish goals. But excessive stress can cause disruptions in your sleep, weight gain and even accelerated aging.

The causes and symptoms of stress are highly individual – what stresses you might be a walk in the park for someone else – so it’s important to know what your stress triggers are and how your stress manifests itself. Understand yourself, understand your stress and understand what can happen to your body and mind when you’re under chronic stress. Use the techniques detailed here and in Younger In 8 Weeks to help you manage, feel better and beat your stress.

Why You Need To Get A Handle On Your Stress

Being under stress may take a serious toll on your health. If stress is constant or chronic, your mind and body can suffer serious consequences. Chronic stress can be the cause of hyperarousal, a physiological state that disrupts the balance of your sleep cycle. It throws your balance of sleep and wakefulness off, making it hard to fall and stay asleep. Stress and lack of sleep can make you unable to focus or think straight. Learning new information becomes harder because long-term exposure to cortisol, the stress hormone, has been shown to shrink the hypothalamus, your brain’s memory center.

Stress can affect your waistline as well. Cortisol and other glucocorticoid hormones have been shown to make you crave sugar, salt and fat. Stress impacts blood sugar, increasing levels when stress is high. In one study, foods high in fat and sugar were linked to more midsection fat storage, but only in women suffering from chronic stress.

Your back may hurt more when you’re stressed. Muscles tense when your body feels like it’s under attack, as happens when under stress. Muscles in your neck and back can stay tight for as long as you’re stressed, which eventually causes pain. Inflammatory substances are released into your bloodstream by stress as well, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Perhaps the most damaging side effect of stress is its impact on the length of your telomeres. In a study of nearly 650 women, those who showed elevated levels of stress hormones in their urine had shorter telomeres than those not under stress. Those who reported feeling stress had telomeres as short as those impacted by obesity, smoking or 10 years of aging.

How To Identify Your Stress Triggers

The best way to combat stress and spare your body its damaging effects is to know what in your life causes you to feel stressed. To do this, you need to identify your stress triggers. The first step is to determine how your stress manifests itself. Take a moment to reflect on how you feel when you’re under stress. Maybe you get a headache or your muscles feel tense. Take note of how stress affects your mental and emotional health. Make a list of how stress works its way into your daily life, conversations with others and habits.

Next, review your day and observe at which point you started to experience these symptoms. Does your boss walking into your office trigger a tight, stiff neck? Does glancing at your account balance induce heartburn? What makes your shoulders climb toward your ears? Look at what aspects of your life your stress is related to. These are your triggers. While you might not be able to completely eliminate some of them, like looming student loans or your mother-in-law, knowing what makes you stressed is half the battle. From there, you can employ methods that mitigate stress and its negative effects on your health and well-being.

What To Do To Beat Stress

It may sound cliche, but one of the best ways to manage stress is to focus on your breath. Try the “circle breathing” method. Take a deep inhale and stretch your arms over your head. As you exhale, lower your arms and allow yourself to breathe a sigh of relief. With your arms gently at your sides, breathe in again slowly. Imagine you’re inhaling a stream of calming energy through a spot a few inches below your navel. Visualize it moving towards the base of your spine, then up your back, through to the crown of your head. As you exhale, mentally follow your breath through the front of your body and back out the spot below your navel. This is your circle. Continue this for 10 breaths and feel your stress melt away.

The information presented here is from Younger In 8 Weeks: the Ultimate Guide to Aging. For more tips and tricks to manage stress, plus a wealth of information on living your happiest, healthiest life, read Younger In 8 Weeks.