In 30 seconds…
Stress stimulates appetite, it increases abdominal fat, it increases risks for disease and it can even play a role in our intimate relationships.
The list could keep going, but what exactly is stress and how is it connected to all these consequences? This guide will provide you with a thorough understanding of many aspects of stress.
You can find more about stress – and how it relates to exercise – within the NASM- CPT program.
But for now, read on!
What is stress
Stress can be defined as a nonspecific response to any stimulus that overcomes, or threatens to overcome, the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis (state of equilibrium of the body’s internal biological mechanisms). In other words, when the body is exposed to, or anticipates a stressor, it initiates a response mechanism to help restore a state of equilibrium.
However, it is important to remember that this biological response is essentially the same regardless of the type of stress we impose upon ourselves, and only differs by magnitude of the response needed.
How to reduce stress
1. Accept what is NOT within your control
The first step in reducing anxious thinking about an unknown outcome or situation is to accept that it is out of your direct control. This relates to the Alcoholics Anonymous serenity prayer of, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There is a lot in life outside of our control. That’s why often, we have to remind our mind of it. If accepting situations in life are outside of your control, try practicing an acceptance meditation when you feel overwhelmed.
2. Focus on what you can control
After you accept what is not within your immediate control, the next step is to focus on what you can control. Often, it is behaviors unrelated to the outcome you are worried about but help reduces stress and anxiety. For example, do some physical exercises, go for a walk, or do other calming and relaxing activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system. More importantly, note that the only thing within your control is your response to worry and anxious thinking.
3. Practice being “present”
There are various mindfulness principles that you can practice to help minimize rumination, but the one I recommend the most relates to the practice of being present or being in the moment and conscious of your immediate surroundings. To get started, take a moment and look around yourself and notice what you see, hear, smell, and/ or are physically touching (i.e., the chair you are sitting on). Start to mentally tell yourself what you are noticing with your senses to shift your attention away from anxious thinking.
4. Be Present in your physical body
One tool that is extremely helpful in reducing rumination is to be present in your body—practice breath-based movements like yoga, tai chi, etc. Even a walk or run where one is actively focused on breathing can help one be mindfully present in one’s body. Dancing to music you love is another way to be present in your physical body in those moments. Such examples are also known as embodiment practices. The practice of being present physically in your body or utilizing embodiment techniques is a great strategy to minimize dwelling on past or future thoughts and situations that are especially outside of your control.
5. Pause and Take a Deep Breath
When you start to notice rumination on a situation out of your immediate control, another helpful strategy in mitigating it is to pause and take a deep breath. Despite being simple enough, one would be surprised at how often we overlook this super helpful move. When you find yourself worrying about something out of your control, pause and take a deep, slow breath. It could also be useful to remind yourself of the serenity prayer listed above as you inhale and exhale. As you breathe in and out, tell yourself that you accept what you cannot change, and remind yourself of what you can control – your response.
6. Create a Personal Affirmation
Another great tool is to create a personal affirmation that you can use when you find yourself actively worrying. A personal affirmation is a cognitive strategy that helps the mind focus its attention on something more productive and helpful. Consequently, it helps shift focus from one’s obsession over the details about the unknown outcome. Examples of useful affirmations could be, “I will remain present to the moment right here and now,” “I will accept that I cannot control the outcome of this situation,” or “I will remain calm and take a deep breath.” To make an affirmation that will more likely work for you, personalize it by drafting the sentence in your own words while writing it down and ensuring that the wording used is positive. Next, put the affirmation somewhere where you will see it when you need it the most.
7. Rinse and Repeat
Last but not least. Practice makes progress. Keep utilizing these movement-based and mindfulness strategies anytime you need them to help reduce unnecessary worry and stress on situations outside of your immediate control.
Although we cannot control situations and stressors in our lives, we can control our response to them. In the context of this article, that would be our response to stress and rumination. Overall, both mindfulness and movement-based strategies can make a positive difference in moving forward with uncertain situations.