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Our body’s reaction to stress, which manifests as increased heart rate and release of adrenaline and cortisol into the blood, served us well in ancient times and was the key to survival in the face of dangers such as predators and a hostile environment. Currently, the primitive mechanism that used to help us survive has become a weak point shortening our life expectancy.
Stress is a term specifying the sense of distress derived from the compromise of ones balance due to physical or psychological stimulation. There is a difference between a single instance of stress, such as a momentary and passing sense of panic in the street or the realization we are going to be late for work, and exhaustion. Exhaustion is the result of chronic stress: infinitely coping with worries and disturbing thoughts, stemming from a demanding job, a complex relationship, an illness of a family member or financial difficulties. The daily worries make it hard for us to relax and let go.
Action provoking thoughts
The constant occupation with intrusive thoughts activates the sympathetic nervous system that is in charge of the body’s functions during stress. When the feeling of distress is aroused, the system prepares the body for the “fight or flight” reaction by increasing the production of adrenaline, increasing the heart rate and preparing the muscles for an outburst of energy. When the feeling of distress passes, the sympathetic nervous system leaves the picture, allowing the digestion and hormonal secretion processes to resume normal function.
Even though the stress modern man experiences usually does not stem from life threatening situations, rather from thoughts and every day worries, it is enough to set off the physical survival system. As a result, we accumulate long hours of increased heart rate and release of stress and anxiety hormones. This leaves its mark on our bodies, the parasympathetic nervous system, which in charge of our health, weakens, and a decrease in the immune system’s activity is apparent. Digestion problems, fatigue, lack of concentration, headaches appear as well as an increase in the level of cholesterol, the arteries become increasingly narrower, and heart problems, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers attack the body. According to the World Health Organization, currently, more than 60% of diseases originate from stress.
How can stress be reduced?
Even though stress accompanies us everywhere we go, it is not an inseparable part of us. The better we learn how plan for expected changes and understand what we need to do in order for the day to run smoothly – the more effectively and calmly we will complete our tasks and reduce the stress accompanying our everyday activities.
How can stress be reduced? Below are a number of methods which can work for everyone:
• Close your eyes – sometimes all we need is to close our eyes, let the world disappear and enjoy the quiet. Closing eyes allows us to interrupt the incessant flow of information from our surroundings, withdraw within ourselves and relax.
• Breathe deeply - breathing is the basis of calm. Long, deep breaths provide plenty of oxygen to the brain and the rest of the essential organs in the body, enabling us to free ourselves from the feeling of suffocation that accompanies extended amounts of time spent between four walls.
• Solitude - sometimes all we need in order to calm down and feel better is a few moments alone, without anyone speaking to us, or wanting something from us, or asking us questions. Even if there are no green, secluded parks in the area, a parking lot or a desolate corridor will allow you to be with yourselves, easing the flow of thoughts and chatter.
• Music – music has an immediate effect on our mood. If you feel stressed and worried, allow yourself a few minutes to listen to a song you like. The assumption that only quite songs can calm one down is mistaken – sometimes, it is specifically the loud and rambunctious songs that help you dispel the stress and free your body from extended feeling of leadenness.
• Fresh air – when we are immersed in work or schoolwork, it is easy for us not to notice that we have not left the room for the past 10 hours, or worse than that – have not even gotten up out of the chair. Extended periods of time spent between four walls, while focusing on a flickering screen guarantees stress. Take a short break outside, breath some Fresh air, sit on a nearby park bench and give yourselves a few moments of peace and quiet.
• Calm waters – water has a calming presence. When we are near water, something in our mood shifts for the better. If there is a source of water in your vicinity – the sea, a lake or even a pretty fountain – go there and try to focus on the water. Even imagining yourself at the sea can help: the infinite blue of the sea calms thoughts expands the heart and puts things in proportion. Remember that even a quick shower can do wonders for your mood.