Ever since Hans Selye published his book, The Stress of Life, in 1956, the word ‘stress’ has become a common word.  Selye, an endocrinologist, described stress as the physiological response of animals to a change in environment.  He knew that stress affected our bodies – it brought about actual physiological changes.  If not brought under control, this change can negatively affect our general health.

In this post are four practical things we can do to manage stress.

Since the 1950’s, science has discovered about stress what the ancients knew centuries ago – that stress affects us physically and mentally:

King David, the psalmist

I am completely exhausted [body] and my whole being is deeply troubled [mind].
How long, O Lord, will you wait to help me?” said the Psalmist.  (Psalm 6:2 – 3)

Many scientists today believe stress is a major factor behind over 85% of illnesses.  I have seen myself that patients who are at peace with themselves and not experiencing unhealthy stress achieve quicker results than those who follow all the health rules but are constantly worrying and anxious.

But reducing stress is not just a matter of saying “I won’t worry so much”.  What follows is a list of four major changes to make in order to reduce stress.

Sleep

An important factor in reducing stress is to obey the circadian rhythms.  That means, to sleep when it is night and be awake when it is day.

A fairly reliable way to get better sleep is to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning.  You can set a ‘Bedtime’ app on your phone to remind you when to get ready for bed so you will be in bed at the same time each night. If you work a night shift and you are ill, consider changing to a day shift so you can get around 8 hrs sleep per NIGHT on a regular basis.

A person unwell or under stress will need more sleep; a person who is healthy may need less.

Exercise

Exercise is perhaps the most important lifestyle change needed for a person who is under stress.  Stress hormones are brought under control when we exercise.  This is perhaps the main factor describing why earlier generations experienced less stress, despite more hardship – they exercised more – more physical work was demanded of them.  Exercise is not something we can put aside as peripheral in importance – it is vital for our health.  About 4hrs of exercise each week is a minimum for basic health.

Prayer and Meditation

Whatever your spiritual beliefs, we all need to put aside time to pray and go over positive, peace-giving thoughts in our minds.  If inspirational music helps you get into this zone, then use it; if being out in nature helps your thoughts become more peace-filled, trusting and clear – take advantage of the great outdoors.

One book I have found invaluable in directing my concerns about my own circumstance onto God who cares is ‘Jesus Calling’ by Sarah Young.  It has led me day by day to stop worrying about things and people in my life I cannot control and trust God to look after them. This gives me peace all day and night long; circumstances may not change immediately, but my perception of them does – my mind is at peace, and that is what really matters.

Another aspect of peace of mind is maintaining peace in relationships with others.  Forgiveness, accepting less than perfection from others, not trying to control others, refusing to allow offense in my life when others let me down or misunderstand me – these are all part of peace of mind; I find I cannot pray and trust God from my heart when I am feeling anger or irritation with another person.

On this note, it is also important to love yourself, forgive yourself for imperfections, and understand God’s acceptance of you as you are now.  This understanding brings peace and healing of body, soul and spirit.

Spending some time each day considering and acting on these things is a vital part of managing stress.

Take time out for yourself

Many doctors have noted that there is a ‘cancer personality’ in many cancer patients.   This type of personality exhibits characteristics of always putting others first, devaluing prioritising themself, bottling up emotions, living in fear and harbouring resentment.

Many of my clients have spent years putting energy into fixing other people’s problems but not valuing themselves enough to regularly take time out for themselves.

If you can’t find time to do the things you love, you may be headed for a crash.

This may be as simple as sitting and watching the sunset most days, reading a chapter of a book each day, having coffee with a friend each week, watching your favourite TV show each night, playing a musical instrument for your own enjoyment or spending time developing a new skill.  It’s not just important for kids – it’s important for us all.

We can all make excuses that we have no time, but if we find ourselves flat on our backs, sick, we will have all the time in the world.  If you put some thought into it and still can’t find any time to do the things you love regularly – you may need to consider a life overhaul – before you crash.  Our bodies will not put up with the stress of being busy every waking hour – without us eventually having to pay the price.  It doesn’t matter how spiritual you are – we all need to make time for ourselves.

Time for Change

It’s true our lives are becoming increasingly stretched.  Our cortisol levels are skyrocketing and with them, our weight and levels of illness.  Some doctors believe stress is the root cause of 86% of cancer cases.  If you are experiencing constant worry, doubt and fear, if you are making compromises against yourself, if you are staying in a damaging relationship without hope of change or going to a job you feel is almost killing you, it’s time to change your psychological landscape and daily reality – by acting on these four points:

  1. Sleep
  2. Exercise
  3. Prayer and meditation
  4. Taking time out for yourself

I can guarantee that if you incorporate each of these 4 points every day, or at least 5/7 days, you will notice your stress levels dropping.  This will put you on the path to better health overall and before long, it will be noticeable.

How will you notice it?

  • You will feel happier when you wake in the morning
  • you will feel more motivated about life, more excited about your work
  • you will smile more and others will notice, and in time,
  • you may even look younger.
  • You will be a more positive person who attracts other positive people to you.
  • You will sleep better and
  • find it easier to lose or maintain weight.
  • Your health will respond better to other changes you are making.

That’s just a few things that can happen when you are proactive in managing stress.

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