A degree of physical, mental and emotional challenge is necessary for life and the development and preservation of function but there is a limit. Once that limit is crossed you move from stress to distress. Distress has significant deleterious effects on all aspects of health and needs to be avoided.
Here are some simple things you can do to avoid distress:
- Recognize that distress is an inside job. it is not the reality around you but your reaction to the reality around you that determines if you chill or stress. A good cognitive behavioral therapist can teach you how to change the story you are telling yourself about the events around you and thereby produce a more functional and less distressed response. For example, when you are stuck in traffic, you could hug the bumper in front of you, grip the steering wheel until you leave indentations in is and ratchet your jaw down until you have TMJ pain while cursing drivers, road designers etc or you could say “Cool, a chance to listen to my podcasts or that audiobook I have wanted to start”. The same reality with very different outcomes.
- Build in opportunities for your parasympathetic nervous system to take over. The sympathetic nervous system is involved with vigilance, fight, and flight. It winds you up. Your parasympathetic nervous system winds you down. the two need to be in balance so you do not get stuck with your foot on the gas all the time. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness exercises, massage, hot tub soaks with relaxation music etc. all work to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Regular meditation can transform your physiology and mind in profound and desirable ways. Try the phone app “Headspace” for an easy introduction to meditation. We love to use it while floating in the pool. I connect my phone to a waterproof Bluetooth speaker. Headspace is free for the first few beginner sessions and then it has an annual fee. It is cheap medicine.
- Spiritual practices that fit your belief system can be extremely helpful also. Sitting quietly in a place of worship. Prayer and meditation can be very powerful.
- Getting out into nature, walking or cycling in the woods or along a beach have been scientifically proven to have a desirable impact on stress.
- Quality time with people you love is one of our favorites and it needs no explanation.