We have all been hearing a lot lately in the media about the dangers of overwork and stress. I am happy to share with you today some powerful reminders of what is at stake from our guest blogger, Julianna Weiss-Roessler. She has some interesting research and sources as well. Also, a reminder that Rusty and I have a free iPhone Guide called "The Power of Positivity" in the GPS for the Soul app for the Huffington Post, which you can use daily to get centered and relaxed! More to come about stress and workaholism in future issues.
Predicting and Combating the Long-Term Effects of Stress
You may have heard people comment that U.S. presidents always look significantly older at the end of their term than at the beginning. Your first response to this might be, “Of course they look older—four or eight years have passed since they first entered the Oval Office.” However, many presidents look like they’ve aged significantly more than those four or eight years, and this is largely attributed to stress. Unfortunately, our nation’s leaders aren’t the only ones who experience the long-term effects of stress.
By using face aging software like that available from April Age, you can get a sense of just how big a toll stress can take on both your mental and physical wellbeing. Long-term stress can even lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, susceptibility to infection, and cardiovascular disease.
So how do you keep stress from making you look and feel old beyond your years? It’s obviously impossible to completely avoid stress, and some amount of stress is even good for you. The key, then, isn’t eliminating stress completely—it’s figuring out how to cope with it in a healthy way.
Learn to recognize stress. A lot of the time, you might not even notice if you’re overly stressed because it gradually builds up and you get used to it over time. But by being aware of the warning signs, you’ll be able to combat stress before it gets out of hand. Some physical symptoms you might experience include nausea, chest pain, diarrhea or constipation, and frequent colds due to a compromised immune system. Psychological symptoms might include anxiety, constant pessimism, the inability to concentrate, mood swings, irritability, depression, and trouble sleeping.
Locate the source of your stress. It can sometimes be tough to figure out what’s really stressing us out, and there may be multiple factors at play. One way you can start figuring out your major stress factors is to start writing down your daily stressors and look for patterns.
Avoid stressors whenever possible. We can’t always avoid our sources of stress—for example, if you have a lot of assignments at work, you shouldn’t just hide out at home. However, you can adjust your behavior in regards to certain situations that stress you out. For example, if you hate sitting in traffic and always worry that you’ll be late to work, leave earlier and listen to a podcast or the radio to help you relax. If you get stressed out by huge parties, don’t be afraid to politely turn down an invitation.
Exercise on a regular basis. Even if you’ve never gone to a gym in your life, you can still start now and experience the positive effects of exercise. Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise is a great stress reliever and mood booster, and getting a good workout may help you fall asleep at night more easily if that’s been an issue. As an added bonus, regular exercise helps keep you looking and feeling fit and will reduce your chances of things like heart disease and diabetes.
Give meditation a try. You don’t have to become a Buddhist monk, but even setting aside 10 minutes a day to clear your mind and meditate can help you control your stress level. Meditating allows you to train your body to go into a relaxation response, which is essentially the opposite of the “fight or flight” response caused by stress. By setting aside time every day to relax your muscles, concentrate on your breathing, and block out intruding thoughts, you’ll find it easier and easier to get yourself into this relaxed state.
Relax by doing something you love. Set aside at least a bit of time every week to pursue a hobby that you truly enjoy, whether that’s playing a pick-up basketball game or reading up on World War II history. Convince yourself that while you’re pursuing your favorite activity, you’re not going to think about anything that’s been worrying you. Even if there’s an area of your life that’s particularly stressful, like work or school, you can look forward to those stress-free pockets of time you’ve carved out.
Learn to accept the things you can’t change. There are always going to be some things in our life that we can’t change, no matter how much we want to. The difference between the people who handle these uncontrollable stressors well and those who don’t has to do with perspective. By recognizing that you can’t control things like the way other people behave, you can focus instead on adjusting your response to the problem and look for the positive.
Juliana Weiss-Roessler is a freelance writer and co-owner of Weiss-Roessler Writing with her husband Josh. She writes about a wide range of topics, including health, fitness, and running a small business. To learn more about her blogging, web copy, and ghostwriting services, you can fill out a contact form on the Weiss-Roessler Writing website.