Three Free, Easy Ways to Self-Manage Stress

By Faith Halverson, Music Therapist at The Lesson Studio

Faith Halverson, Music Therapist at The Lesson Studio

Faith Halverson

Stress is a natural part of life. It is something that everyone experiences at times regardless of age. (Because remember, even though they may not be able to articulate it, children feel stress too.) Stress is a normal response to situations that we, whether consciously or unconsciously, perceive to be threatening.

The stress response is an internal physiological phenomenon of brain activation and hormone secretion which sets off a “fight-or-flight” response that can provide us with the burst of energy needed to escape dangerous situations. This mechanism has been very helpful to us humans through the years as a way to ensure our survival.

Yet, especially in todayʼs busy world, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the demands that are placed upon you either by yourself or others. These demands are not life-threatening, yet the culmination of these stressors may make it feel as though your life is in danger.

This culmination can in turn become a vicious cycle in which you may find yourself in more and more stressful situations that then result in a state of perpetual stress. Eventually this feeling of being constantly “stressed out” can grow to become understood as a normal state of being.

However, living from a place where one is constantly “stressed out” comes with both a physical and a mental price. While we are evolutionarily hard-wired to respond to stress, our overall health and well-being are affected when this constant state of stress becomes a way of life.

Some of the health problems that have been found to be linked with the long-term activation of the stress-response system, due particularly to the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones, are:

Heart disease
Sleep problems
Digestive problems
Depression
Obesity
Memory impairment
Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema

These are serious health conditions that greatly affect the quality of life for many people in this country. The American Heart Association estimates that in 2006, 81,100,000 people in the United States had one or more forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health state that in a given year, approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the US population age 18 and older is affected by major depressive disorder. Additionally, about 3.3 million American adults, or 1.5 percent of the population, are affected by dysthymic disorder, or chronic, mild depression.

So, now that we know that chronic stress can be detrimental to our health, what are some things that you can do for yourself to manage your own stress levels?

Following are three easy things that you can do to manage stress for yourself:

The first thing that is helpful is to increase awareness around your own personal stress signals. When you notice yourself becoming stressed, draw attention to what is happening in the present moment. What particular thoughts, feelings or sensations are you experiencing? By shifting focus back to the here-and-now, you can develop a more objective view that can be helpful to you in finding resolution to the stressful situation.

Another thing you can do is to simply make a sound- any sound. Many people tend to withhold their voice for anything other than speaking; you too may feel silly, fearful, or embarrassed about how your voice sounds. However, it can feel really good to just sound out how you feel, without any words- just pure sound. It can be a sigh, hum, growl, bark… however you are feeling the need to express in the moment. Creating sound like this with your voice can help you reconnect with your breath by requiring you to breathe more fully and deeply. This allows feelings of tension and stress to move through and out of your body. As a result, you can feel more grounded and energized.

Lastly, move your body. I know that for myself when I feel stressed, I become really restless. This affects me mentally as it is difficult for me to focus my thoughts and ideas when my attention is instead focused on the agitated energy within my body. When this happens, I move. By moving your body, you give your brain a break from problem-solving while also giving yourself a chance to reconnect with your body. After some movement or exercise, you can come back to the task at hand feeling refreshed and renewed.

These three little things are all easy to do. They donʼt require that you pay for treatments or buy special equipment. Try them out for yourself and see how you feel!

Sources:

American Heart Association- Cardiovascular Disease Statistics

Mayo Clinic- Stress: Win Control Over the Stress In Your Life

National Institute of Mental Health- The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America

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