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10 Ways to Manage Stress So It Doesn’t Make You Sick

10 Ways to Manage Stress So It Doesn’t Make You Sick

I experienced a long-term illness relating to prolonged high levels of stress because I hadn’t learned ways to manage stress. I came to a point where I had to do something major about it. It was a life-changing experience. I dove into books, meditation, and prayer. I saturated my mind with research. I took time off work.

My stress resulted from a series of events. Because I hadn’t learned the right ways to manage stress, my body became very sick. What also contributed to my stress was my thought patterns. I always focused on high achievement and tried to go beyond my abilities. As a result I burnt out quite a few times.

Witnessing people twice my age who suffer from an array of problems due to a lack of stress management skills really put things in perspective for me. They have accomplished amazing things, but at the cost of their health, family and own well-being. Seeing the complications and regrets of some of these people has really enforced my desire to learn how to lead a balanced life from a young age.

When my body wasn’t functioning properly, stress was completely overlooked. The doctors and specialists never asked about stress or tested my body for increased cortisol, hormones and symptoms related to stress. I had to find out about those factors through my own research and by turning to a naturopath. I am not against doctors, but the experience made me realize that we are responsible for our own bodies. We need to recognize the warning signs, take time out to center ourselves and always be conscious of our health.

Before you jump into the stress-management techniques, you should look at some of the symptoms of stress to see if you might be suffering from it.

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Physical signs of stress:

  • Tiredness, fatigue, lethargy
  • Heart palpitations; racing pulse; rapid, shallow breathing
  • Muscle tension and aches
  • Shakiness, tremors, tics, twitches
  • Heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation
  • Nervousness
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Excessive sweating, clammy hands, cold hands and/or feet
  • Rashes, hives, itching
  • Nail-biting, fidgeting, hair-twirling, hair-pulling
  • Frequent urination
  • Lowered libido
  • Overeating, loss of appetite
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs and medications

Psychological signs of stress:

  • Irritability, impatience, anger, hostility
  • Worry, anxiety, panic
  • Moodiness, sadness, feeling upset
  • Intrusive and/or racing thoughts
  • Memory lapses, difficulties in concentrating, indecision
  • Frequent absences from work, lowered productivity
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loss of sense of humor

Prolonged and/or intense stress can have more serious effects. It can make you sick! There are more symptoms/signs—this is just a guide.

Now, what are some ways to manage stress?

1) Don’t rush through life

Why are we all rushing anyways? I don’t want to be morbid, death awaits us all. Are we in a rush to die? People put their health at risk to pursue their ambitions. This can create an urgency that leads to stress. I myself have felt this need to achieve a lot from a young age, with the result that I was always busy and put in a lot of effort toward the future. Currently when I feel that need to rush and be busy, I immediately recognize it and do something about it, even if it means a day or two off. This centers my mind and body and helps me live in the moment. Slow down, enjoy the ride and be effective—not just busy.

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For those in their 20s (like me) this quote hit home for me: “Nothing will ruin your 20s more than thinking you should have your life together already.”– Aimee-Cherie

2) Don’t skip meals

Being involved in the workforce for many years I witnessed fellow employees missing lunch due to a heavy workload. They would also share the fact that they had no time for breakfast either. Placing work or commitments before your health can lead to stress on your body. The body requires fuel to work efficiently and if you’re not taking the time to fuel up, you will run on empty. You wouldn’t keep driving a car without fuel! So why would you do it to your body?

3) Don’t take your stress out on those close to you

When you’re stressed you may not act like yourself. The people around you may become targets of attacks in a heightened state of emotion, anxiety or impatience. It is important to implement self-control and perhaps fair to communicate how you feel with those you trust. When I have opened up about how I feel, I have been amazed at the words of encouragement that I have received. It puts things in perspective and shows us how stress is self-created and can be eliminated. Your family and friends should be the people you can be relaxed with. So don’t burn those bridges!

4) Don’t blame everyone else

If you tell yourself that it is everyone else’s fault that you are stressed, that does nothing but keep you stressed. Years ago I was in a position where I was given a lot of responsibility and not much training. That imposed stress on my body, mind, and desire to work. I stuck it out because the money was good, I felt lucky to be given the opportunity, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I blamed my stress on the workload, a boss who didn’t listen, and peers who spent more time gossiping than working. Eventually I burned out. Take control of your life. If you can’t change the environment, find a new one.

5) Don’t overwork yourself

At the age of 26 I am quickly learning the importance of not overworking myself. From a young age I had a high achiever’s mentality: I pushed too hard and would be discouraged if results were not at a high standard. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for high standards, but aiming for perfectionism at the cost of your happiness is sure to disappoint. In the corporate world and among people I know, there are many who overwork themselves and label it success. Overworking yourself can cause stress in your body, mind and soul. It’s disruptive to a balanced life. I view success as having a well-rounded life and schedule, one that makes time for health, relationships, family and downtime.

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6) Don’t make excuses when you are unwell

I remember a woman who was awfully sick and kept coming into work. She complained that she had a lot of work to do and no time to take off to recover. I recognized her excuse because I had used it myself before. I told her, “You can’t work if you’re dead.” She took a day or two off to recuperate. If your boss or those around you can’t respect your choice to take care of health, they are not worth your time!

7) Don’t ignore it

If you are feeling stressed out, or if you relate to any of the symptoms above, don’t ignore it. Many live in denial and cease to do anything about the state of stress they are in. People may not even realize how stressed they really are. I didn’t. It wasn’t until I allowed my body to recover and went on a journey of self exploration that I came to terms with how stressed my body was. I feel I escaped an early death or long term disability. Don’t keep putting off those warning signs. Check in with yourself and do something about it. Learn stress management skills and get to the bottom of your stress before it gets worse.

8) Don’t take your body or life for granted

Stress is a sign that we need to slow down, take action and focus on what is stressing us. By pushing stress to the side and allowing it to build up, the person who suffers the most is you. Stress can lead to serious illness, psychological disorders and death. It can hurt and cause pain for those closest to you. I never knew stress could bring on disease until I experienced it first-hand. Stress is serious if left unmanaged and/or ignored. If you feel you may be letting people down because you need time out, you need to start loving yourself more. Quitting my career to focus on my health and moving away for six months meant putting myself first. I surrendered having a great income, job security (in a sense) and my career, all in order to get myself together. I distanced myself from family and friends for a short while to be alone and regain strength. The people who love you will stand by you. You may also attract the right people into your life, people who will help you in your journey toward a balanced life.

9) Don’t put off exercise

Exercise helps with releasing stress and clearing the mind. When you are looking after yourself physically you can have a better approach toward your work, issues, and stressors. When I feel overwhelmed, going for a walk or run in the sun gets all the negative energy out of my body. Just don’t overdo it. Stay balanced, focused and consistent. Don’t over-train as it can lead to further stress.

10) Don’t let tomorrow’s worries overwhelm today

If you worry, have anxiety, and people refer to you as a stress head then you are not alone! Since I was a little girl I was worried all of the time. It didn’t help that I came from a religious background where they told us to be good or we would go to hell. Nonetheless, my journey of letting go of worries, anxiety and what I cannot control has been amazing. I will admit it’s been tough but it’s very possible. Embracing the present moment and allowing things to be will decrease your stress. Those butterflies, tight knots in your belly and racing thoughts can be managed. At any time in our life tragedy can come, relationships may end or you may not do well in your assignments! Spending your energy and thoughts on worry won’t help you or your body. Have faith that life has good things in store for you. Allow what is meant to be, be, while doing your best in your own endeavors. When one door shuts, another will open. Say no to stress by saying no to worry!

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There are a lot more stories and guides to stress out there. Here are a few references I found useful:

Australian Psychological Society 2012,Understanding and Managing Stress, http://www.psychology.org.au

Elkin, A 2013, Stress Management for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons

Lees, M 1966, D-Stress Building Resilience in Challenging Times, Inner Cents

Parmer, S & Cooper, C 2008, How To Deal with Stress, (2nd Edn)

Featured photo credit: GaborfromHungary via morguefile.com

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Anjelica Smilovitis

Personal Trainer

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Last Updated on June 18, 2018

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Video Summary

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

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Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

    Sit Properly

    If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

    Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

      Credit: StayWow

      Stand Up More

      Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

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      Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

      Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

      Or get a standing desk.

      One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

      Exercise for Lower Back Pain

      Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

      But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

      The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

      Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

      Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

      This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

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      Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

      Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

      There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

      Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

      I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

      Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

      If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

      Where to Start

      The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

      Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

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      If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

      Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

      Keep a straight back.

      Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

      Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

      I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

      If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

      Stay Away From the Back Pain League

      Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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