Guest Blog Post by Jane Kim, LCSW
Wondering how to reduce stress response and the anxiety that flows from stress is a common concern because so many of us share it – nearly 60% of adults in the United States report feeling stress or anxiety daily. And when life gets hard, it can feel like there’s no getting out from under stress. So, here’s what you can do to reduce stress response when life gets hard.
But First, What is Stress?
Stress is a response to a challenge or demand that creates mental, emotional, and/or physical tension in you. If you live in our modern fast-paced, urban society, you are likely to be intimately familiar with stress. We hear over and over again that stress is bad for you. You know it’s something you’re supposed to have less of, but it still can leave you feeling confused about just how to do that.
Is Stress Bad for You?
Stress gets a bad rap, but it isn’t always a bad thing. It has historically kept us alive by activating our fight/flight/freeze response. That currently translates into helping you meet a school or work deadline. Therefore, we need the fight or flight stress response to help us navigate life and keep us safe. It only becomes unhelpful when we get stuck in a stress response cycle. That is, our nervous system continues to perceive threats (constant email/text notifications, unresolved conflict, etc.) but doesn’t act on the threat signal in a way that stops the cycle.
How To Reduce Stress Response
Following are four ways to reduce your stress response.
Stress begins in your brain but often lives in your body. You must release it from your body. Whatever physical activity you can do, do it. If you can fit in a walk around the block, do that. If you can do yoga, do that. Run or spin or row or box if you’re able to. It doesn’t have to be formal exercise. It can even be an impromptu dance party for that one song that makes you want to move your body. Movement releases stress.
This isn’t just some hokey, pop psychology term that gets bandied about for no reason. Mind and body need to work in conjunction. Imagine your mind and your body each holding an oar and trying to row the boat of your life. If they are not in sync, you will waste lots of energy going zig-zag. Or if one is not paddling, you will go in circles, keeping you stuck. Try spending 2 minutes right now noticing the quality of your breath (is it deep? shallow? smooth? ragged?). How about your heart rate (fast? slow? changing?). Any other bodily sensations (Where is your body making contact with the seat or floor? What does the air feel like on your skin?) Do this 2-minute exercise daily. You can bring greater body awareness to your mind, thereby creating a deeper mind-body connection and reducing the stress response.
Permission for Imperfection:
It’s okay if you don’t get to fit in any physical movement today or you forget to spend 2 minutes strengthening your mind-body connection. Give yourself permission to mess up, fail, make mistakes, and try again. Embracing your imperfection can relieve stress by lowering the bar from perfection into the more human range.
Do It For You:
We often get caught up in doing better for our family, our friends, our boss, our co-workers, etc. But first, do these things for you simply because you matter, and your life goes better when you are well taken care of. In turn, this will also be better for those around you whom you care about without you trying to take care of them. Some of us might be caretakers for young children or aging family members, and this might seem impossible. If that is you, try asking yourself, “what can I do for me right now?” The practice of orienting a few of your thoughts towards your own needs will help re-allocate some of your energy. That re-allocation can reduce stress.
What if That Doesn’t Work?
There are times when we cannot solve the problem alone. It can be because the problem is too big or we feel too small or both. If that is the case, enlist others for help. Identify some people in your life whose presence brings you calm, laughter, or ease, and spend some time with them. If you don’t have anybody like that right now, then a therapist could be that person for you. Humans have managed to survive by sticking together, so it is not a sign of weakness or failure to seek out other humans for our well-being. It’s in our nature.
If you feel you can’t manage fear and anxiety or believe that they are negatively impacting your life, it may be time to seek support. If you are in the Chicago area, reach out to one of the qualified therapists at Life Care Wellness: (630) 423-5935. We can help you explore ways to feel balanced and in control while managing the changes and challenges of stress and anxiety.
Blog by Jane Kim, LCSW
Jane is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and EMDR Therapist. Her focus is on helping people to improve self-esteem, decision-making, or boundary-setting by working to understand the discrepancy between our inner dialogue and the true reality. She believes that lasting change comes from working on these discrepancies and finding our values and strengths in a safe environment free from judgment of any kind.