Chronic stress has shown to be one of the main reasons people end up with physical of emotional illness.
When we are stressed, cortizol is released and when this is a constant discharge it decreases our memory, our ability to focus, and lowers our immune system, let along making us not feel very happy.
We live in such a fast paced society that we do not always realize how much stress we are under, until we are confronted with a diagnosis of high blood pressure, constant migraines, IBS, anxiety, or depression. Most of us may not be able to escape many of life’s stressors, however there are some relatively simple ways we can lower our stress levels.
First of all we need to know we belong, be it to a family, a group or community. In an interesting documentary on happiness, they showed that after searching the world in many different cultures to discover what made people happy, they found one of the happiest people was a financially poor rickshaw driver in India. Why, because of his sense of belonging to his large family and community connection.
Part of belonging also means giving to others. I was talking to a friend this morning about how she had just gone to Mexico to build a home for a family. She excitedly and in detail shared how it was one of her best experiences of her life. Was it the ‘giving back,’ the hands on experiences, the joy in the families faces when they saw the house, or all of the above?
Secondly, we need to be involved in some form of art. This could be anything from dance, theatre, music, painting, gardening, creating something with our hands, writing, poetry, cooking, museums, charity–the list goes on.
Studies show through MRIs that when we are participating in the arts it affects many different parts of the brain and also the body. It releases positive chemicals such as dopamine, which makes you feel more relaxed and happier. Studies have shown that both ill children who are hospitalized and the elderly (particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease) have shown remarked improvement in their symptoms when participating in some form of the arts.
This leads to the third way we can decrease stress naturally: by touch. Touch is a wonderful way to increase your immune system and just plain, feels good. A hug, a back rub, or massage, or cuddling with someone you love.
We all know that exercise is important to decreasing stress, however people can mistake this belief by putting too much stress on their exercising. The key is to find an exercise that you enjoy partaking in. Every day I have a plan for exercise, be it running, biking, yoga, or walking, but ultimately I wake up and ask myself what it is that would make me feel good today.
Lastly, something that we do every minute of the day that can help decrease stress, is breathing. Taking time to take some deep breathes and slowing down, relaxing is important not just for stress release but also just to regroup and check in with ourselves. Find a quiet spot, get a cup of tea, or glass of water, your favorite book, or just sit quietly. You might be nicely surprised what five minutes of relaxing can do on a daily basis.
Any of these activities from exercise, connection, community, creativity or just taking a deep breath takes a conscious effort, but afterwards, do you ever feel as stressed, do you ever feel regretful that you had done the activity?
When we are involved with creativity and the arts, touch and feeling like we belong, it literally shuts down the feeling of stress and the release of cortizol. There are no negatives; it just sometimes takes a bit of forethought and effort to decrease our level of stress, which in turn affects our physically and emotional well-being.