Healthy Habit Challenge: Try 1 stress relieving activity for at least 10 minutes on 3 days this week

Topic Progress:

This week, we are going to talk about stress and ways to reduce the effect on your body.  Your challenge for Week 8 is to try 1 stress relief activity for at least 10 minutes on 3 days this week.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s response to a threat. Say, for example, another driver runs a red light, barreling through the intersection you are about to enter.  Your body focuses on getting oxygen and fuel to your muscles so you can respond quickly. To get that blood moving, your body used resources to increase your heart rate and blood pressure. It also released hormones to access stored energy for immediate fuel. The priority becomes responding to the immediate threat. You slam on the brakes. Your body temporarily shifts resources away from tasks like digesting the breakfast you ate before you left the house. It’s called the Fight or Flight response. You use it to avoid the collision. Once the danger is gone, your body recovers.

When the stress response happens too often - like with everyday stressors such as slow traffic, work deadlines, news, etc., it leads to chronic stress.  These daily “threats” can create the same response in your body as that near collision. Since these stressors aren’t temporary, it can harm our health and well-being. Some of it you may feel in the moment, like when the sandwich you ate at lunch isn’t sitting well in your belly (hint: it isn’t the gluten) or later when you pick up the latest office bug because stress lowered your ability to fight it off.

 

Yeah. I’ve got a lot of stress. How do I reduce it?

Look for a way to shift your body out of the fight or flight response and back into “rest and digest” or rather a state of balance called homeostasis. How you choose to do this, is up to you. We recommend exploring a variety of strategies you can keep in your “tool box”.

We mentioned the Stress in America survey and how many of those surveyed use physical activity to cope with stress.  How does physical activity reduce stress?  Physical activity releases feel good chemicals in your brain called endorphins.  Have you heard the phrase “runners high”?  Well, it’s not just for runners.  Plus, when you focus on the activity you are less likely to think about the worries that contributed to the stress in the first place.

Of course, you aren’t always able to break away to get outside or take a walk. In these moments, it helps to turn to your breath. Slow, deep breathing has the power to calm your body and mind. This type of breathing shifts your body from “fight or flight” (sympathetic nervous system) to “rest and digest” (parasympathetic nervous system).  Aim to match the length of the inhale and exhale. One way to do this is to sit quietly, close your eyes, and breath in slowly for a count of four. Your chest will rise and your belly expands. Sucking in the belly is not allowed here as it gets in the way of deep breathing.  Try spelling out calm in your mind. C-A-L-M as you breathe in and fill your lungs. Then breathe out for four counts (C-A-L-M).  Do a few rounds until you feel your heartbeat slow and your shoulders relax. You may choose to add a visual to enrich the moment. Imagine yourself in a relaxing place or picture the smile of a supportive friend. Ahhh. Now isn’t that better?

If you’ve got 10 minutes, check out this guided breathing meditation

What do you do to relieve stress?

Remember, your challenge for Week 8 is to try 1 stress relief activity for at least 10 minutes on 3 days this week. 

Handout

Tackling Stress in Positive Ways