Best Stress Relief Activities
Life in today’s 21st century is undoubtedly more advanced and complex than ever before. This modern intricate world has imposed varied demands on our lives, something that we were not created nor designed for. Our present-day crowded lives are increasingly run by deadlines, latest HiFi gadgets, together with scores of other demands which put immense pressure on our time as also our whole beings.
These demands could be work-related, challenges of balancing the family time and work front, illnesses/ailments, fear of failing, relationships or even financial problems. There are constant, impressive and far-reaching changes that have occurred worldwide in a short period.
While living in our fast-moving, ultra-modern world can be advantageous, it has also resulted in added duress on our physical and emotional health. The fact remains that we cannot go back in time to the pre-Industrial Revolution era and hence the need to maintain a healthy balance between the pressures of life and the mental capacity to cope with the same.
Stress is the body’s response to a challenge or demand. Everyone experiences stress, which can be triggered by a range of events, from small daily hassles to major changes like a divorce or job loss. The stress response includes physical components such as an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, thoughts and personal beliefs about the stressful event, and emotions, including fear and anger. Although we often think of it as being negative, stress can also come from positive changes in your life, like getting a promotion at work or having a new baby.
Stress serves an important purpose—it enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties (for example, anxiety and depression) or increased physical health problems. A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover.
You may have heard that meditation and exercise are effective ways to relieve stress, but activities that adults tend to reserve for children are also wonderful ways to lift spirits, live in the moment, and reduce anxiety.
“Play is not just essential for kids—it’s also an important source of relaxation and stimulation for adults,” says Rachel Buzenberg, a therapeutic recreational specialist with Henry Ford Health System. “As we get older, we become set in our ways and find it hard to get out of our comfort zones and engage in new, fun activities. But expanding your leisure interests is not only calming, but it also helps you to manage stressors and build happiness.”
Improving brain function, expanding creativity, preventing memory loss, decreasing depression, strengthening your relationships with others—these are all wonderful side effects of engaging in play, she adds.
“There’s a theory about human motivation called Maslow’s Hierarchy,” Buzenberg says. “After our most basic survival needs are met (food, water, shelter) our needs revolve around personal growth. Fun activities build self-confidence and feelings of accomplishment.
When I watch a patient complete an art project or win a friendly game of UNO, I can see the pride they feel. It triggers the release of endorphins and leads to an overall positive sense of well-being, which helps to relieve stress.”
Seeking ways to de-stress can improve both your physical and mental health and allow you to more fully enjoy your retirement years. Everyone prefers to relieve stress in different ways, so it’s just a matter of finding what works best for you.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a physical response to a challenge or demand. The term comes from the Greek words meaning “rush” and “strength,” as the stress response triggers our fight-or-flight reflex, where our hearts beat faster and we get sweaty palms to prepare us for action.
The heart rate goes up and blood pressure rises when we are under stress; in fact, high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. In the brain, areas responsible for mood, cognition, and learning are activated, causing a variety of symptoms including anxiety, irritability, and impatience.
The emotional and physiological responses to stress can be positive or negative. Stress has the potential to be harmful to your health in several ways.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines stress as “a physiological response that our bodies use to prepare us to deal with potential harm.” When we feel stressed, a portion of our blood vessels constrict to take in more oxygen to keep our brain and other tissues functioning properly.
This helps us respond to immediate danger by protecting our hearts and other systems. When we become stressed, our heart rate and blood pressure increase, and we release hormones to help our body cope with the stress.
When the body is faced with a sudden challenge or a big change in our environment, like a physical threat, a natural stress response ensues, including an increase in the hormone cortisol, which raises the heart rate and blood pressure. The increased cortisol is needed to prepare your body for a fight or flight response, but if the response is prolonged, it can harm your health.
If you have a stressful job, such as nursing an elderly patient to recovery or a fast-paced commute, daily life can be extremely stressful, causing anxiety, changes in your sleep patterns, and an increased likelihood of smoking, drinking, and overeating. The good news is that you can learn strategies to help you manage stress and enhance your mental and physical well-being.
Although many of us think of stress as only physical, research shows that people experience emotional and mental stress, too.
Factors that may contribute to stress may include poor sleep, changes in your social or family life, excessive work demands, and cancer treatments.
Stress can also be caused by environmental factors, such as loud or busy streets, pollution, road accidents, or children being bullied at school.
Types Of Stress
Common kinds of stress are categorized into three categories: stress due to outside forces (e.g. your boss’s constant critical comments), stress from within (e.g. the financial pressures of paying bills or caring for an ageing parent), and the body’s own responses (e.g. exercise, sex, illness, and fighting fires).
While you’re coping with the demands of daily life, external stressors may be the source of your feelings of stress. External stressors include everything from a major change in your work situation or daily routine, such as a job loss, to a minor annoyance, such as the need to find time to remember to bring your wallet to work.
People react to stress in different ways. Some people respond better to minor, short-term challenges than to major, prolonged challenges. Other people are highly reactive to the combination of challenges, ranging from very minor daily stressors to major life changes or the loss of a loved one.
A common pattern in individuals who have an increased risk for developing serious mental health problems is that the early onset of their stress will continue over time and will eventually lead to serious mental illness or a suicide attempt.
When we’re in a stressful situation, we experience changes in our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. As a result, we may have symptoms like nausea, shaking, and racing thoughts.
Signs And Symptoms Of Stress
Symptoms of chronic stress vary according to the severity of your current stressors and your overall health.
The symptoms of stress vary from person to person and because stress can cause physical changes, even in people who seem otherwise healthy, the signs and symptoms can vary from person to person. Signs and symptoms include:
- Racing heart,
- Cold sweats,
- Trouble sleeping,
- Difficulty concentrating,
- Feelings of not being able to catch your breath,
- Unexplained aches and pains, and
Effects Of Stress
Many of the physical symptoms of stress can be very real—
- heart palpitations,
- muscle tension,
- feelings of anxiety and depression,
- constipation, and
- digestive issues.
Although they can cause the body’s stress system to ramp up, physical symptoms of stress tend to be short-lived, and eventually will ease.
However, in the longer-term, chronic stress can cause a range of negative physiological effects including increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems, as well as a higher risk of death and suicidal thinking and behaviour. Stress also has been linked to chronic inflammation in the body and elevated levels of stress hormones.
The key is to know how stress affects the body and the mind. This means making positive lifestyle changes.
- increase your heart rate and blood pressure,
- increase anxiety and irritability,
- reduce immune function, and
- increase your susceptibility to infection
How The Brain Responds To Stress
To understand how stress can impact your health, it’s important to first understand how the brain responds to stress.
First, the cerebral cortex is the main area of the brain responsible for our sense of self, including our conscious thoughts, memory, and awareness. A healthy cerebral cortex helps us respond to stresses appropriately by helping us focus on threats and avoid danger.
Meanwhile, the hippocampus is a region of the brain that integrates memories and emotions. A healthy hippocampus keeps these separate, giving us insight into the past and current experiences.
A chemical called cortisol—produced by the adrenal glands—is the main body’s “stress hormone.” When we are stressed, cortisol levels increase, telling our brain and other body systems to respond. This response releases hormones to help us deal with the situation.
Some of these hormones, such as norepinephrine, testosterone, and adrenaline, have stress-response actions, while others, such as cortisol, may provide no additional benefits and actually increase your body’s inflammatory response. Your brain reacts by releasing the hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.
When the brain’s stress response kicks in, a network of neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, is activated. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that send signals between nerve cells. Neurotransmitters deliver signals from one brain cell to another to carry out a response. Some of these neurotransmitters carry information about the events that led to the stressful event, while others are involved in controlling our reaction to that event.
The brain produces these chemicals in response to the stressor. The stress response also includes two important stress-related hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline causes people to breathe faster and to have increased blood pressure.
While your body’s response to stress is important, you can also help yourself cope by understanding your stress response and how your brain and body react.
How To Relieve Stress
Trauma can be stress-inducing and lead to long-lasting changes in the brain. PTSD, for example, is a condition that occurs after the victim experiences or witnesses a traumatic event that causes distress.
Trauma can be triggered by actual or perceived threats to personal safety. It can also occur due to loss of control in a situation, or a violation of a person’s sense of integrity, security or autonomy.
In addition, a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors—both biological and psychological—exerts a powerful influence on how trauma is experienced and treated.
There are many ways to reduce the negative effects of stress, which can be as simple as taking a moment to breathe. Taking a few moments to think about stress and its triggers can help you regain control of your response. When faced with a stressful situation, try these tips:
- Remove personal obstacles.
- Unproductive emotions, negative thinking, and negative self-talk can interfere with your ability to cope effectively with stressful situations.
- Identify and confront your personal obstacles.
- Start by identifying your personal triggers, and if you need help finding what they are, seek the help of a mental health professional. Pay attention to your response.
Learn how to manage your emotions. You can take steps to manage negative feelings Relax with the help of activities such as meditation and yoga, which make you more relaxed and help to reduce your stress levels.
Meditation. Practicing meditation is considered an effective stress relief activity and is also a means of helping you reach a more Zen-like state.
Become a pet owner. A study in Australia found that having a pet dog or cat can relieve stress more effectively than listening to music or taking a hot bath or shower.
Follow routines. Stress can also be eased by having a regular routine and by having a sense of control over your circumstances.
Find things to be thankful for. Being thankful for all the good things you have in your life can significantly reduce stress.
Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential to keeping your body and mind healthy and young. Research has shown that a lack of sleep is linked to depression, memory problems, stress, eating disorders, and heart disease. For optimum health, you should aim for between 7–8 hours of sleep a night.
Stay active. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress.
Importance Of Exercise In Reducing Stress
Many factors influence the severity of stress, including genetics, lifestyle choices, age, and health status. The recent work of some of the world’s top psychologists shows that even moderate exercise can have significant psychological benefits.
A recent review of studies found that exercise has significant psychological benefits, especially in those who are most at risk for stress. These include those with the most stressful jobs (for example, doctors, police officers, and social workers), those with the longest hours, and those with the greatest physical strain.
Exercise has been shown to help us to cope with the physical effects of stress, reduce the risk of developing psychological and psychiatric problems, and even promote healthy brain development in children and adults.
One way exercise can reduce stress is by promoting relaxation. In a study of older adults, adults who engaged in moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise experienced less emotional distress (such as crying, feeling tense or upset) than those who did not exercise.
Exercise also helps lower the level of the stress hormone, cortisol and can reduce stress by improving our mood.
It is important to remember that exercise, on its own, is not recommended as a way to reduce stress, but it is recommended that you use exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. An integral part of a healthy lifestyle is the provision of stress relief activities and stress management skills. We have always stressed the importance of flexibility in teaching students.
Students can do their best work and feel happy at school if they are in a supportive learning environment. The more active you are during the day, the easier it is to unwind and release tension. When you have a change in your life or see a stressful situation happening around you, the body may respond in an unproductive way. Anxiety, anger and negative feelings can often be exacerbated by boredom and stress.
What To Eat When Stressed
It’s important to know how stress affects us. In a stressful situation, the nervous system releases hormones and other chemicals that affect the brain and immune functions. Blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and immune system function all increase.
Over time, this can cause changes in your ability to handle stressful situations, both physical and psychological. The following simple tips can help to reduce your stress and improve your mental and physical health:
- Follow your nutrition plan.
- Eat healthy foods, both healthy and less healthy.
- Eat foods that are both nutritious and tasty, like
- grapes, and
- Avoid junk food and fast food and consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Eat foods that contain tryptophan, a chemical involved in regulating mood.
Like everyone else, stress affects your appetite. It may cause you to eat more or less, depending on whether you feel hungry or whether you’re feeling stressed. However, the good news is that small changes in the food you eat can help to reduce the negative effects of stress.
Eating a balanced diet that contains plenty of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats, such as those found in nuts and seeds, is linked to a reduced risk of health problems associated with stress, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Research also shows that eating a healthy, plant-based diet can have a powerful positive effect on your mental health.
Consulting A Mental Health Professional
A licensed mental health professional (LHPR) can help you identify what situations and events are causing your stress, identify potential sources of stress, provide insight about how to manage and reduce stress, and explain treatment options.
Mental health professionals are trained to assess your mental health needs and, through a comprehensive assessment process, they can provide you with a comprehensive picture of your circumstances and offer suggestions on how to address these issues. They can also help you achieve goals and develop a plan to reach them.
Sometimes mental health problems can take many years to overcome. If you continue to experience negative feelings, symptoms or effects from a mental health condition, it is important to seek professional help.
Mental health problems are common in older adults, and they can have serious health consequences. About half of mental health problems begin by age 14, and up to two-thirds begin by age 24. They can last a lifetime. And unfortunately, many older adults do not get treatment for mental health problems.
There is no doubt that stigma and the lack of community resources mean that many older adults avoid treatment for mental health problems. Additionally, some health systems do not treat mental health issues as seriously as physical health issues. As a result, people with mental health problems may wait until their health becomes seriously impaired before seeking treatment.
Stress is normal. It helps us respond quickly to a threat and it improves the way we respond to the stressors that are in our life. It’s important to note, however, that the relationship between stress and mental health is complex, and exposure to stress has both positive and negative impacts. It is a major factor in our lives.
I trust you enjoyed this article about the Best Stress Relief Activities. Please stay tuned for more blog posts to come shortly.
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Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? I would love to hear from you. Please leave me your questions, experience, and remarks about the Best Stress Relief Activities in the comments section below. You can also reach me by email at Jeannette@Close-To-Nature.org.
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