Stress isn’t always the enemy. Our ancestors relied on short bursts of adrenaline to help them outrun predators and hunt for prey (also known as dinner). Now, that innate survival mechanism is more likely to help someone meet a tough deadline at work or compete in a tennis match. But prolonged unease — caused by family dysfunction, unemployment, substance abuse, or other stressors — can hurt your health. The Mayo Clinic notes that stress can cause ailments ranging from the physical (headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia) to mental and emotional (anxiety, depression, insecurity) to behavioral (overeating, social withdrawal, and relationship conflict).
The first step to tackling your worries: Be specific. Once you’ve defined what’s nagging you, develop a plan to deal with it. “Uncertainty in any form is very stressful,” says Dr. Mark Boling of Deaconess Cross Pointe. “It is easier to face a certain threat than to deal with general worries and concerns.”
We asked Boling for other tips and techniques to help us chill out.
Deep breathing exercises “slow the heart rate and production of adrenaline, which fuels symptoms of anxiety,” Boling says. The same is true for muscle relaxation exercises. The Mayo Clinic suggests slowly tensing and relaxing muscles from your toes up to your head. Tense each muscle group for five seconds or more, then spend 30 seconds relaxing.
Whether you join a gym, take a walk with friends, or sign up for a softball league, exercise has healing benefits. Yoga, a popular method for stress relief, “offers the opportunity to learn methods of calming and focusing on the body and breathing,” Boling says.
Expand your horizons.
Serve meals at a shelter, tutor children, or care for homeless animals — volunteer activities open your eyes to other people and their needs. Another way to branch out: Take a class. Whether it’s oil painting, auto repair, or ballroom dancing, learning a new skill can be empowering.
For people “who have a more existential angst about what their life is about and are stressed by a sense of purposelessness,” Boling says, spiritual counseling — which requires soul searching and examination of beliefs — may provide direction.
Sometimes, worries are too much to handle alone. Seek professional help when you can’t maintain your usual level of functioning, including your daily routines at work and home.