Just as I started writing this column on stress relief, I had an unexpected stressful event.
My mother had a subdural hematoma and emergency neurosurgery in California — with no other family around her.
I felt my adrenal glands squeeze and the stress hormones bathe my body as I sat by her intensive care bed.
What I realized at that moment was the thought of starting stress relieving measures at such a stressful time was overwhelming. The only way for stress relief to be there when we need it is if stress-relieving measures are part of our daily routine.
In a world where stress is a constant companion, what can we do to fight back?
• Stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is a myth. That’s a difficult pill for women to swallow, because we are the queens of multi-tasking.
It seems that life demands that of us; however, we can truly only focus on one thing at a time.
When we are trying to do everything at once, stress increases.
How many times have you caught yourself making to-do lists in your head when you are talking with someone, reading your email or even making love?
When you are doing that, you mentally disengage, and instead of enjoying the interaction, you’re rewarded with stress.
• Practice listening and engage in living rather than list making. If this focus is difficult for you, consider yoga or meditation.
These activities can help you focus your fleeting attention. Embrace saying no to additional tasks that add stress to your life.
• Exercise daily. Exercise is probably the best stress reliever of all.
While exercising, there is a release of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, endorphins — the same ones that are responsible for a “runner’s high”.
The effects of cortisol are lowered through this release. The endorphins, focus and the fact that “you did it” give you a sense of calm, optimism and self-confidence.
People who exercise routinely sleep better — something that is often interrupted during times of chronic stress.
Nike had it right: “Just do it.” Pick an exercise that you enjoy; find a friend to help you do it regularly; and most importantly, continue to exercise even when life is hectic.
• Write in a gratitude journal. A woman with ovarian cancer who I helped care for in my obstetrics and gynecology residency opened my eyes to the brilliance of a gratitude journal.
Through multiple hospitalizations, pain and fear, this woman shared with me that every day she finds three things that she is grateful for.
I challenge you start a gratitude journal. Take a moment each day and focus on the good things in your life. This process will increase your optimism.
Many other things may reduce your stress more effectively — music, expressive art or writing.
However, what I found since my mother’s surgery and recovery process, is that embracing and prioritizing — rather than neglecting — our stress-reducing techniques is crucial to our own health.
Don’t wait until stress is overwhelming to try to figure out what might work to relieve your stress. Start now and make stress reduction a habit.