Avoid stress’s side effects with these tips.
Stress is more than just an unpleasant state of mind. It can lead to a host of physical side effects, including headaches, trouble sleeping, and an upset stomach. Stress can also make you eat more, and research has shown a correlation between heartburn symptoms and sustained stress levels. And when you’re a parent, these added problems are the last thing you need.
Sure, there are ways to combat the effects of stress—you can take a pain reliever for your aching head, power down your electronics long before you hit the sack, or try a medication like Nexium 24HR to combat frequent heartburn (meaning you experience symptoms two or more days per week). But it’s also a good idea to try to stop your stress in its tracks. If you find yourself stressing out a lot, you can adopt lifestyle changes like exercise and making time for hobbies that make you happy. There are also a few relaxation techniques you can try when you notice yourself stressing:
Take deep breaths. Stress can sometimes make people unconsciously hold their breath or breathe shallowly. Reverse the effect by focusing on your breathing. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose, feeling your chest and belly move with the inhalation, then breathe out slowly through your mouth or nose. Put your hand on your stomach so you can feel your breath going in and out.
Focus on a word. While you’re breathing deeply, keep negative thoughts out of your head by trying to concentrate on a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself silently. Some options: “slow,” “calm,” “peace,” or the name of someone who makes you happy, like your child. If negative thoughts do intrude, let them pass and go back to your word.
Use a mental image. This method also accompanies deep breathing: Close your eyes and imagine a scene that makes you feel happy or peaceful. Can you picture yourself sitting in a chair on a quiet beach, listening to the waves crashing and feeling the sand between your toes? What about sitting on the couch on a cozy winter day, reading a beloved book to your kids?
Relax your body in parts. Try scanning your body from head to toe. Where are you feeling the most tension? Then, start at one end of your body and think about each body part, consciously relaxing each one. (Relax your feet, then your ankles, then your shins, then your knees, etc.) You might also try tensing each muscle for a few seconds before you relax it, allowing you to really feel the difference.
Make it a habit. Getting the hang of relaxation techniques can take some time and repetition, but regular practice can yield real changes in how you respond to stressful situations. In one review of studies, researchers found that meditation programs can have small to moderate reductions on psychological stress. If you are making changes and still find yourself super-stressed, your doctor can recommend a counselor who can provide additional coping techniques.