Stress helps your body respond to danger by releasing hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. As a result, you may feel your heart rate increase and your breathing become faster during a stressful event.
Flight or fight! Chemical and hormone release from stressful situations prepares your body to make split-second decisions known as the "flight or fight" response. You may decide to face the danger (fight) or retreat from danger to protect yourself (flight).
Stress comes in different forms. Stress can motivate you to make positive changes. Think of preparing for a job interview or test, the birth of a child or the ability to quickly react to dangerous situations. However, stress is not always positive. Negative stress may result from work or family duties. Stress may also be caused by traumatic events such as loss, natural disaster or illness.
Many of us breathe shallowly. This limits oxygen in our lungs and leads to increased stress or anxiety.
Deep breathing is a technique that allows greater oxygen flow and promotes relaxation. To perform deep breathing, place one hand on your stomach under your rib cage and the other hand on your upper chest. Breathe in slowly through your nose and allow your stomach to fully expand. You should feel the hand on your stomach rise and the hand on your chest remain mostly still. Breathe out slowly with your lips lightly pressed.
Meditation may provide peace to manage stress. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment. First focus on your breathing. Next, focus your attention on any experience you are having in the present moment. Recognize unrelated thoughts and emotions as they come to mind but allow them to pass.
Guided imagery can also decrease stress. To perform guided imagery, imagine yourself in a favorite place (perhaps the beach). Breathe deeply and focus on sensations you would feel (gentle breeze and sunshine on your skin, salty smell of the ocean, sand beneath your feet). Pay attention to thoughts as they come and then gently return to your meditation.
Movement-based activities are beneficial for relieving stress. Yoga, for example, combines physical activity, controlled breathing, and relaxation. Walking and Tai Chi are also beneficial.
Do things you enjoy on a regular basis (read, go to the movies, spend time outdoors, spend time with friends and family). Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Be assertive, and don't be afraid to say "no" to take care of yourself.