Stress is a feeling we’re all familiar with. It’s how we feel while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic to and from work, why we often dread Mondays, our responses when people ask how we’re doing, and what may keep many of us void of a good night’s sleep. Sometimes, we even use it as an indicator of how busy and productive we’ve been.
Regardless of what stresses us out or where we feel the most stressed, it’s safe to say that we’ve all spent a good amount of time and effort trying to get rid of the feeling. In a bid to tackle stress, we’ve inadvertently turned the counteract of mindfulness into a movement.
According to market research firm IBISWorld, the meditation and mindfulness industry in the U.S. was estimated in 2016 to be approximately $1.1 billion.
The proliferation of apps available on our phones meant to help us tackle stress further reveals our wants to relieve it. Headspace, a guided meditation app, for example, has gotten so popular, it’s garnered an estimated valuation of $250 million according to Forbes.
Then, there are the new “meditation busses” popping up around the U.S., such as the Pause Now bus founded by Fil-Am Jackie Corwin, which is complete with private spaces, comfy seats, cushions, noise-canceling headphones, and a tablet computer.
Small amounts of stress are natural and are a healthy part of life. It’s what prepares us for “fight or flight” mode by releasing hormones and chemicals like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine.
Yet, while some day-to-day stress is normal, some forms of stress — especially long term and chronic stress — make way for a number of issues that can lead to more serious health problems if left unchecked.
“Good stress turns bad when it causes severe anxiety or other health problems,” Fil-Am health and wellness coach, Anna Marie Cruz, told the Asian Journal.
“In today’s modern living, we are more exposed than ever to chronic stress, the kind that persists for a long time and leads to health problems, mood changes, and negative behavior including stress eating,” she added.
According to WebMD, 43 percent of all adults suffer health effects from stress. Seventy-five to 90 percent of all doctor visits were found to be for stress-related complaints and illnesses.
Stress related health effects can include anxiety, headaches, heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, skin conditions like acne or psoriasis, asthma, depression, arthritis, and insomnia among a string of others.
Letting stress linger can also in turn affect our behaviors which explains why many turn to “stress eating” or unhealthier habits like binge drinking. In fact, 63 percent of U.S. workers that participated in a Statista survey of over 17,000 adults said they regularly engaged in unhealthy behaviors like drinking to counter work-related stress.
There are ways to respond to stress and because April is Stress Awareness Month, Cruz shared a few basic strategies to approach stressful times in a healthy way.
Acknowledge the stress
Many times, we find ourselves either not wanting to admit we’re stressed or are unaware that we’re actually experiencing stress.
Cruz said that being aware of our stress is a key step in relieving ourselves and preventing it from getting worse.
“Some of us ignore stress, which can lead to burnouts and breakdowns,” she said, adding that one of her friends had to admit herself into the ER because of work-related stress that she had been ignoring for months.
Focus on the now
When we start to feel stress building up, Cruz recommends that we find activities that help us focus on the present, instead of the future or past.
“Without the luxury of time, this might mean taking a five minute walk or doing deep breathing exercises,” said Cruz.
Taking deep breaths is a common quick and simple tip given to people feeling stressed out.
“I often talk my clients through a simple breathing technique at the beginning of each coaching session, counting one to five for each inhale and exhale, and repeating this three to five times,” Cruz shared.
Whether it’s doing some yoga, taking a nature walk, playing basketball, or just hanging out with friends, getting ourselves occupied is a good way to step back and stop stress from taking over.
“The point is to find something that allows you to let go of that stress, even momentarily,” said Cruz.
Talking from experience, she reminded that some forms of stress are unavoidable, such as the loss of a loved one.
“When my mom passed away, I remember feeling grief and extreme anxiety from her loss. The one thing that allowed me to feel some relief after days of uncontrollable sobbing was a hike with a group of friends,” shared Cruz.
She added, “To this day, I still remember that as a giant exhale — that feeling of letting go I desperately needed. I still had to deal with the reality, but that respite reminded me of how lucky I was to be surrounded by such great friends.”
Focus on mindful eating
When stressed, we often find ourselves reaching for those “feel good” comfort foods that are often high in fat, carbohydrates, and sugar. You know — foods like ice cream, pizza, fries, or burgers.
Aside from choosing better foods that regulate our stress hormones and protect our immune system, paying attention to how we eat can also be helpful.
“Mindful eating, in which we are engaging the senses, to nourish ourselves is one way to avoid stress eating,” said Cruz. “This means we are observing, smelling, tasting, feeling the texture of every bite we take.”
And as tempting it is to bring our plate to the TV room to binge on our favorite shows, Cruz suggests getting in an environment free of distractions where we can relax. Doing so also helps with digestion, she added.
Plan a getaway (like to the Philippines)
“There’s always a trip to the mother country,” said Cruz, adding that the Philippines was recently named the third happiest country in the world according to U.S. based firm Gallup International.
While the country isn’t free of stressful conditions like poverty and extreme climate events, Cruz said that its ranking as the third happiest country shows that the people may know a thing or two about managing their stress.
“Perhaps you have heard of the phrase ‘Bahala Na’ which loosely translates to surrender,” added Cruz. “This is an attitude of faith, that no matter what happens, there it will be.”
Cruz suggested that one way to think about stress is to acknowledge that we can only control what we can.
“So, why not give the worry away?” said Cruz.