- Ricka Robb Kohnstamm
What are tangible ways to get a handle on your anxiety?
These are weeks filled with anxiety on many fronts... the debates, COVID-19, school re-openings, car accidents, pregnancies, diagnoses, new homes, hospitalizations, shakeups at work, intellectual property debacles, and the list goes on and on. The goal of anxiety is to alert us to threat, but unrelenting anxiety is unhealthy.
It is increasingly understood that chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation can play a critical role in the development of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases, depression, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's, and cancers.
Getting a handle on chronic stress is not a "nice to do". It's a "have to do".
So let's get to it with these three evidence-based tools...
Be physically active in nature For many people, the combination of being physically active in nature is a more effective stress reduction tool than either being physically active indoors or being in nature without being physically active. "The results of this study suggest that the location with the highest level of nature had the greatest effect on reducing levels of stress as measured by biometric and psychometric data. Thus, while individuals may select different locations or activities for reducing stress, for many, natural environments may be useful in their attempts to reduce their levels of stress." Ewart, A. and Chang, Y., (2018, May). Levels of Nature and Stress Response. Behavioral Sciences. 8(5): 49. Go outside. Walk, run, bike.
Soften your belly and slow your breath Tense, shallow breathing is the norm for most of us. Yet, belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) is easy to do and can reduce the bodies' stress response by helping to control the nervous system. "Slow breathing techniques act enhancing autonomic, cerebral and psychological flexibility in a scenario of mutual interactions: we found evidence of links between parasympathetic activity (increased HRV and LF power), CNS activities (increased EEG alpha power and decreased EEG theta power) related to emotional control and psychological well-being in healthy subjects." Zaccaro, A., Piaurulli, A., et. al. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 12: 353. Soften belly, slow down the breath.
Laugh spontaneously Start noticing and leaning towards people and situations that provide you with an opportunity to laugh spontaneously. "Currently, research is indicating that the physical act of laughing, even without humor, is linked to chemical changes in the body that potentially reduce stress and increase pain tolerance. Understanding the distinction between spontaneous and simulated laughter is likely to become a stronger point of emphasis moving forward." Louie, D., Brooke, K., et. al. (2016 Jul-Aug). The Laughter Prescription; A Tool for Lifestyle Medicine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 10(4): 262–267. Look for laughter, every day.
Stress reduction is serious business and we're being given ample opportunity right now to crank up the practice.
It is good to remember that I can choose, even in the face of huge stressors, to control chronic stress through healthy behaviors. My actions, aligned with my values, supports my optimal health.