Not-So-Silent Killer: 3 Ways to Decrease Stress

Stress can kill you. 

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s a little pet peeve. It always surprises me how we throw out this word so flippantly and even use it as a badge of honor. 

“I’m so stressed! These kids are driving me crazy.”

“This schedule is so stressful!”

“Having to do that thing stressed me out.”

We need to rethink how much we invite this word, and these behaviors, into our lives, because the simple fact is, stress negatively affects a myriad of body systems in the short term. In the long run, stress is one of the most significant contributors to chronic disease, a lowered immune system, cardiovascular disease, and eventually, death.

I’m lucky enough in my job as a psychotherapist that I get to work with people from all walks of life—various cultures, a range of financial situations, and a multitude of habits and belief structures. In my work with nurses and physicians, particularly those working in hospice or acute care, I’m told that most individuals suffering at the end-of-life with chronic health conditions are in this situation because of how they chose to live their lives.

Three Ways to Decrease Stress

We have choices, from what we eat, how we move, and our beliefs, that impact our daily living. We can do easy things right now to live happier, healthier, and longer lives with much less suffering. We need to hit the reset button and start living a slower, calmer life…we need to decrease stress. Here’s how:

Move Your Body in Nature

When you’re moving in nature (walking, jogging, gardening, bird watching, etc.), you’re accomplishing a few things. First, you’re doing only one thing, not 26 at one time. Second, you’re taking in the smells of nature; research has shown this is like a magical calming elixir to your central nervous system. Finally, you see how small you are in comparison to the vastness of the entire universe.

 “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” Marcus Aurelius

It’s only in nature that you can truly see how amazing you are and how insignificant the little things are within your daily life. (Pro tip: Even 10 minutes of being outside can significantly improve your mood!)

Get Better ZZzzz’s

This isn’t rocket science, right? However, it bears repeating how vital sleep is on your body. You’re taking in a tremendous amount of information throughout the day, both things you’re conscious of and a vast amount of information with which you aren’t consciously aware.

While you sleep, your brain does a lot of work weeding through everything you’ve taken in through the day. Much of the information gets discarded (you just don’t need it), and the rest of it is categorized for you to access later. Without this process of weeding out and classifying, your brain can feel like a jumbled mess of noise, which really only serves to keep you in a constant state of distress and feeling frazzled and all filled up. 

Those times when you “can’t take one more thing?” You need sleep, my friend. Let your brain do its filing magic. (Pro tip: If you are nodding off in the middle of the day, your body needs a pause. Take a break! Napping for even 10-15 minutes can work wonders for your fast-filing brain.)

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

Okay, I said it. I know you don’t want to hear this because it’s boring, and veggies are dull, and the fruit is less boring but still dull. However, did you know that when you eat fruits and vegetables, you get an increase of serotonin in your brain, and your blood pressure stabilizes? While other foods will also help decrease your overall stress level, you can’t go wrong by focusing on fruits and vegetables as a starting point. (Pro tip: Don’t love veggies? Get some yummy seasoning and sprinkle liberally, then roast.)

Look, sis. I’m just trying to keep you calm, peaceful, and alive for a very long time, thriving like the amazing woman you are. It may not seem important right this moment, but if you’re going to live a long, hearty, fruitful life, enjoying your kids and your kid’s kids and the rocker on your front porch, you’re going to have to do certain things to decrease stress. Not all things…but some of the things, every day. 

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan
Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer is a mom of twins who are sweet as sugar, but just hit that tween stage so all bets are off. Her youngest is...a joy. Let's just stop there. Most days you can find her in her office seeing clients, doing laundry, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or catching up on the latest episode of Real Housewives of (Insert City Here), Walking Dead or This Is Us. She is a tree-hugging country girl from West Texas who reads, writes, and teaches about human development and families as a hobby and profession. You can read more from Jennifer at her therapy blog, ichoosechange.com

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