The laundry is piling up, my kids have conflicting dance recitals and soccer games, I’m overdue on a project at work; my car needs an oil change, I need to figure out what to make for dinner, how to resolve a spat with my partner, when to get to the gym, and on, and on, and on…. HELP!!!
When the day to day of life starts to pile up we experience stress, and often feel overwhelmed with everything going on around, and even inside of us. Because of the implications of unmanaged stress on our health, and its potential to derail us from our wellness goals, it is important to boost our capabilities for coping with this stress.
What Stress is and Why it is Important to Manage:
Stress represents a relationship between a person and the environment that is both personally significant and exceeds the individual’s resources for coping (Lazarus, 1966). Any type of stressor elicits the release of our bodies’ “flight or fight” chemicals. This serves us well if the stressor is acute, as it helps protect us from danger. However, chronic exposure to these same chemicals wreaks havoc on our cardiovascular and neurological systems, leaving us at risk for heart disease, hypertension, and obesity (McEwen, 2008).
Further, stress is a common barrier to maintaining our healthy lifestyle behaviors when it goes unmanaged. Stress tends to overwhelm us, making it difficult to dedicate time and mental space to our health behaviors.
The good news is, we can get creative with ways to manage our stress. We can utilize our own senses to combat the negative health effects of stress and to free up our focus in order to tune back into our wellness goals.
Come to Your SENSES to Manage Your Stress:
Identify a place you have felt most at peace. Maybe it’s on the beach at sunset, or the dock of the lake you vacationed at through your youth. This place should bring a sense of calm to you. Print a picture of the place, and carry it with you. Take five minutes to carefully observe this picture in a quiet space, and visualize yourself in this place. Do positive feelings surface for you?
Scent is connected to memory, thus it can be a powerful tool for coping. Do you have any special memories that bring you joy? Maybe it is baking with your loved ones. Try a Vanilla Sugar candle in your safe space to help access these warm memories. Other scents have been linked to calming, such as lavender, lemon, sage, and jasmine.
Cuddle up with your pet, or a friend’s pet if you don’t have one, and experience the joy of man’s best friend! If animals aren’t really your thing, explore how your body feels in space (proprioception) and how you can harness movement to bust your stress! Lace up your sneakers and feel the pavement beneath your feet as you head out for your morning walk. While you’re outside, practice some deep breathing and see how the brisk air impacts you.
Build a music playlist, or identify some stations on Pandora, for dealing with the different situations that might cause stress. For example, if you’re trying to meet a deadline at work, choose something upbeat and motivating in the classic rock genre. If you’re dealing with a tougher emotional time, try something soothing, like Coldplay Radio. There are no right answers here; pick whatever music you connect to or give our Spotify playlist a try!
Brainstorm some healthy food and beverages that you can enjoy that help you feel calmer. Chamomile tea, decaffeinated black coffee, a small square of dark chocolate, are all good options (in moderation, as always) that can light up the pleasure centers of our brains and help us manage our stress.
Stress is inevitable in the hustle and bustle of our lives. However, by harnessing our senses, we can definitely take the edge off this stress. Once everything feels less heightened, we can dedicate more of our energy to our healthy habits.
Sources: Lazarus, R. S. (1966). Psychological stress and the coping process. New York: McGraw-Hill; McEwen BS. Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. European journal of pharmacology. 2008;583(2-3):174-185. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2007.11.071.