NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The uncertain times we live in can cause us to experience the effects of stress and stress-related illnesses or complications. Stress is the wear and tear your body experiences due to the changes that occur as a part of living.
Whether the changes are global, work/ministry-related or personal, your body responds physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. You can reduce the wear and tear on your body by recognizing your body’s response to stress and employing stress management techniques to ward off its harmful and long-term effects.
Stress management is a personal process to discover the techniques that work best for you. Here are a few proven strategies to help settle your mind, change your attitude, quiet your spirit and calm your body’s response to stress:
1) Stop and listen! In times of stress, one natural response is the keep going and feverishly work into a panic, therefore increasing the stress response. Instead, try the opposite. When you feel pulled in many directions, stop everything. Find a quiet place without TV, people or activity. Do nothing for at least five minutes. Allow your mind and heart to open to the Holy Spirit. Remember when Elijah was stressed in 1 Kings 19? God told Elijah to go to the mountain and He would pass by. Elijah did not hear the voice of the Lord in the wind, earthquake or fire but in a still whisper. Elijah had to be still and quiet to hear from God.
2) Breathe deeply. Another common response to stressful times is shallow breathing. When we do not breathe deeply we deprive the body of adequate oxygen to think clearly and function properly. Instead of shallow breathing, actively take five to six long, full deep breaths. Inhale through your nose for a slow count to five and exhale through your mouth for a slow count of five. When you breathe deeply your body will respond with a lower blood pressure, slower heart rate and reduced tension in muscles, therefore reducing the pressure you feel from a tense situation.
3) Find the positive. When life gets out of hand, another typical response it to think of the worst. “Doom’s Day” thinking leads to a higher stress level. When faced with stressful events immediately begin to speak the positive about the situation. Example: You are rear-ended by another car. The damage is relatively minor. Positives in this situation may be no one was seriously hurt, the damage is repairable, you have insurance to cover the cost of repairs, or it isn’t raining. If you have challenges finding the positive in a situation, ask God to change your outlook so you can see things more clearly through His eyes.
4) Laugh. Proverbs 17:22a says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Laughter reduces stress by releasing endorphins into your body that lower your blood pressure, release tight muscles, increase your oxygen intake, stimulate your brain, and change your emotional outlook and thinking. Take a “laugh break” when things are stressful. Keep comic strips, funny photographs of family or friends, comedy movies, a funny book, or a Christian comedian CD or video on hand to use during your laugh break. Laughter therapy is gaining in popularity for treating everything from stress to cancer.
5) Get out and move. During stressful times your body produces hormones that are ready to help you protect yourself or get away from a “predator”. This is called the “fight or flight” response. When these hormones are not used by your body to fight or flee, they hang around, keeping your heart rate elevated, muscles tight, blood pressure up and cholesterol levels high. Exercise safely uses these hormones and limits the damage they can cause to your body. When stress is at its peak, get out and move. Walk around the neighborhood. Jog or run through a park. Play an active sport like basketball or racquetball. Join a fitness class. Finding a physical activity will help you manage the harmful effects of stress.
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him [Jesus] because He cares for you.” Ask God to show you the best process for managing the stresses that life brings your way.
Polk is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach based in Cordova, Tenn.