Squash Stress: Finding Your Zen

Sometimes stress hits us like a freight train, and sometimes it sneaks up on us a little bit at a time. Not managing stress properly can manifest in symptoms from a headache to digestive issues. A few points to keep in mind when life starts to overwhelm.

Look to Friends
Surrounding yourself with people you love and trust can be key to coping with life’s unexpected turns, says Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., author of The Cortisol Connection: Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health-And What You Can Do About It (Hunter House, 2007).

Big life stressors can floor us-a lost job, a lost relationship, maybe even the loss of a loved one-but then there’s also that low-grade, chronic stress we experience at work and in our “too busy” lives. Both can lead to behavioral changes, like less exercise or more drinking, and body changes, like increased blood pressure.

Reach for Relief
The leading causes of stress, according to a study by the University of Washington, are work, finances and family-things most of us deal with on a daily basis.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, a simple stress ball can ease a lot of built-up tension, according to the Stress, Anxiety and Depression Resource Center. Whenever you make a fist, you create muscle tension. And when you release your grip, your muscles relax. The easy process of squeezing can flush out muscle tension and relieve stress.

Watch Those Pearly Whites
When you get stressed, do you reach for a box of cookies or second soda for comfort? Do you forget to floss or even fall asleep without brushing? Or maybe stress is causing you to grind your teeth when asleep. All of these bad habits can wreak havoc on your chompers.

“In many ways, unfortunately, the stresses and strains we experience have a great effect on our muscles and teeth,” says John Comisi, DDS, a spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry. He warns to not neglect your regular checkups and get in the habit of wearing a protective mouth guard to bed to prevent damage that will cause you even more grief down the road.

Keep On Moving
It’s said that with age comes wisdom, but what the saying doesn’t tell us is that with it may also come even more stress. John B. Murphy, M.D., chair of the American Geriatrics Society, says that although stress doesn’t necessarily affect older adults any differently, they often have a lot more to worry about.

“There may be different triggers to stress, like losses they experience-death of a spouse, siblings and friends, living on a fixed income, loss of independence associated with diseases-that are more common among older populations,” he says.

By far, the most important step for an older person wishing to alleviate stress is regular physical activity, he says. Taking even a 20-minute walk each day is a good place to start.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff!
Stress comes in all shapes and sizes. Talbott says that one way we can avoid the negative impacts stress can have on our bodies and minds is by learning to tell the difference between big issues and little issues.

When things seem grim, it’s good to remember the age-old advice of looking on the bright side. “As simplistic as it sounds, the fact that you can look to ‘what is improving’ in a given situation can help you to psychologically buffer the stress in other areas,” he says. 

GMC offers fitness classes designed to help alleviate stress like yoga and Tai Chi. Click here and search "fitness classes" to learn more. 


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