Good for the Body and Good for the Brain: Reduce Your Stress

What does your body have in common with your brain? Besides both having cracks and crevices, they are also profoundly affected by stress. Research shows that most doctors’ office visits are stress-related and that stress contributes to many major illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes. Your brain is also affected by stress; most memory-loss episodes are related to stress and the most common type of headache is caused by stress. Because your mind is trying to focus on too many things at once, stress can prevent you from retaining new memories, it affects learning as well. So, what’s a typical, red-blooded, overachieving American to do? Stop stressing!

Set Realistic Goals

If you set yourself up to achieve realistic goals, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment and hopefully give yourself permission to relax. In our instant-access world of email, texting, Wi-Fi and other means of being available at a moment’s notice, we may have forgotten how to turn the world off.

Setting realistic goals might mean setting a timer that says, “I’m done for today.” Or, break a task into manageable pieces. Consider being paralyzed by the thought of organizing your entire basement. You make findthat anxiety overtakes you just thinking about it. But if you take one box, bring it upstairs and empty it out. Once the box was empty, you could decide if you wanted to do one more, or give yourself permission to be done for the day. Removing the stress of having to do the whole thing all at once allows you to take the bite out of your basement boogieman and reduce stress.

Sweat it Out with Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress. Stress literally means tension, a pulling in more than one direction. If you put a heavy weight on the back of your camel, you create stress on the beast’s back. The weight of the load works against the force of the earth to create tension in the animals’ legs. The same thing happens with mental or emotional stress.

Usually, two competing forces are at work. Often, it is load (the number of things to do) against reality (the amount of time you have to do it.) Exercise stimulates your muscle fibers to contact and expand at rhythmic intervals, which effectively releases tension from your muscles. Aerobic exercise also releases endorphins–the “feel good” chemicals in your body–and helps you forget the day’s stressors as your mind focuses on the workout at hand.

Learn to Relax

Have you ever had to come home from vacation just to get some rest? Even our vacations are packed with things to do, places to see and money to spend. We often come home from our breaks more exhausted than when we left. Learning to relax can help improve your energy, concentration, and sleep quality–even your blood pressure. Before attempting to cram for your next trigonometry exam or steeling yourself for your next presentation, try these relaxation exercises recommended by the Mayo Clinic:Relax, stress, health

With autogenic relaxation, you use visualization and mindfulness to work your way from tense to relaxed. Sit in a quiet location, imagine a peaceful setting and repeat a simple word over and over in your mind. Your brain will send relaxing messages to your body, which can help, relieve tension.

With progressive muscle relaxation, you alternately tense then relax different muscles in your body to train yourself to notice the difference. Lie on the floor and start with your feet and toes. Clench them tight, then let them loose and notice the difference between tense and relaxed. Work your way up your body, ending with your scalp and forehead.

Visualization is similar to autogenic relaxation. Ease stress by visualizing a relaxing setting, but use as many senses as you can. Imagine seeing the mountain stream, hearing the rushing water, smelling the clean, crisp mountain air and feeling he cool breeze on your face. Start with just a minute of relaxation and work your way up to five minutes.