Tuesday kicks off Stress Awareness Month, making this the perfect time to focus on ways to relieve chronic and short-term tension. Taking control of your stress levels is important, because high levels of stress can have multiple negative impacts on health—which, of course, can lead to more stress.
“Stress has an effect on your physical and emotional health, with really serious consequences,” says Beth Ernst, Life Enrichment Manager at Splendido. “Over time, chronic stress can damage your body as much as an unhealthy diet or even smoking cigarettes.”
Too Old for Stress?
Although the majority of people report their top source of stress is their job, that doesn’t mean that retirees don’t feel stress. Older adults may suffer ongoing stress over money, trouble with family members, or a health problem or disability. Symptoms can include fatigue, trouble sleeping, loss of memory, weakened immune system, and irritability or moodiness.
The good news is that even though you may not be able to control the external factors that contribute to your stress, you can still take steps to make yourself feel more relaxed, reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body, and improve your mood. Activities such as tai chi, meditation, or yoga have proven beneficial to the stressed, as has the practice of healthy behaviors including eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding too much alcohol, being active every day, and getting enough sleep.
“I would love to see people change their daily habits to incorporate stress-reducing exercise and other habits,” says Ernst, “but everyone should know that no matter what their lifestyle and habits, there are smaller steps they can take to reduce stress and improve their mood within minutes.”
Reducing Stress Here and Now
Here are six very pleasant ways to relieve stress in the short term. In other words, if you feel your tension level shoot up due to a traffic jam or a long line at the grocery store, you can ease that tension with one of these activities. All are backed up by scientific research.
Sip a cup of green tea
Green tea is low in caffeine, so it won’t increase your anxiety like coffee or a caffeinated soda pop might. More importantly, it contains theanine, an amino acid that boosts relaxation.
Move your body for 10 minutes.
You’ve probably heard that regular exercise will help keep stress low—but it works for an immediate tension-releaser as well. As little as 10 minutes of physical activity can increase your levels of serotonin and endorphins.
A piece of chocolate a day keeps stress away
Perhaps the most pleasant step you can take to reduce your levels of stress hormones: Eat 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily. (Be sure to look for some that contains at least 60 percent cacao.)
This might prove tough during our hot Tucson summers, but if you can spend 5 to 10 minutes outdoors every day, you’ll soak up some stress-relieving natural light. When your retina takes in sunlight (even on overcast days), your brain starts pumping out serotonin.
Pick up a page-turner
A British study recently found that reading for just six minutes can lower stress by 68 percent. The theory is that your mind has to concentrate on what you’re reading, and that distraction releases the tension in your body, including in your heart.
Give someone a hug
Giving a friend or family member a big squeeze not only feels good, it can trigger your brain’s release of calming chemicals like serotonin. So go ahead and hug it out!
“These are about giving your body a break from stress,” says Ernst. “If you can lower your stress from time to time with a book or a cup of tea, you’ll feel happier, and you’ll relax physically—which is always good. And who knows—maybe you’ll enjoy the relaxation so much, you’ll sign up for a tai chi class.”