Self-care Strategies: 10 tips to manage your stress

Stress is a necessary part of life.  It is a tension that motivates us, and gives us the drive to do work and complete tasks.  Our nervous system responds to stress and amplifies the response by kick-starting our sympathetic nervous system, releasing stress hormones, and switching us into flight-or-fight mode.  While stress can be a healthy part of life, excess stress can cause a number of negative effects on our health.  Mismanaged stress can interfere with sleep, raise blood pressure, and decrease immunity.

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One of the most significant side effects of high stress that I see in my practice, is increased pain.  Not only does stress affect your neurotransmitters, and therefore your experience of pain, it also tenses up the musculature which can exacerbate many conditions.  The relationship between stress and pain is a vicious cycle, with chronic pain raising stress and high stress intensifying pain.  Treating one of these issues may offer some relief, but will rarely resolve the issue.  As a holistic treatment, and specifically one that treats both conditions very well, acupuncture is a great solution to this problem.  By addressing the whole body, an acupuncturist is able to stop the stress-pain-cycle, and start managing and decreasing both stress and pain.

If you’re not ready or interested in committing to see a professional to treat your stress, there are still many forms of self-care that you can do yourself to manage your stress.  See below for some of my favorite stress-busters!  Don’t worry about incorporating them all.  Instead, try a couple that stick out to you, and create a new routine or habit with what works best for you.

  1. Take a deep breath – Find a breathing practice that feels good to you.  For example, kickstart your parasympathetic nervous system (the restoration/relaxation side of things) by exhaling longer than inhaling.

  2. Get consistent, quality sleep – Getting a good night’s sleep sets you up for success to better handle your day.  More tips on improved sleep habits coming soon..

  3. Eat well & nourish your body – Don’t forget that you are what you eat- what meals and snacks are going to serve you best today?  Rather than reaching for that donut, and its inevitable sugar crash, try a decaf herbal tea (chamomile is especially calming).

  4. Move your body – Put your body’s own endorphins to work! Even a simple stretch does your mind good.

  5. Get outside – Soak in some rays and get a dose of Vitamin D.  As our days get longer you have no excuse!

  6. Soak in some calm – Absorb magnesium by soaking in an epsom salt bath, especially enjoyable as a way to wind down at the end of a long day. Don’t have time for a bath? Downsize to a foot soak in a small bucket or tub.

  7. Smell something good – Lavender & eucalyptus are known to relax & calm

  8. Try a simple meditation – Starting up a meditation practice may sound intimidating, but even a few moments of daily mindfulness (such as by focusing on your breath) can reduce stress.

  9. Perform an act of kindness – Doing something for someone else makes you feel good, and helps put our troubles in perspective.  Smile, hold a door, buy a coffee, say hi.  The possibilities are endless.

  10. Get acupuncture – I am of course biased to this option, but adding acupuncture to your self-care regimen helps regulate your stress hormones, downregulate the sympathetic nervous system (the high stress, fight-or-flight side of things), and chill you out.

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