Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul.
– St. Augustine
As we remember and spend time with our loved ones this Valentine’s Day, I’d like to discuss stress management and physical (heart) health. I would argue these two topics go hand and hand, because when stress becomes overwhelming or chronic, it can affect our mental and physical well-being.
It’s normal to face stressful situations in life. Everyday stressors include everything from our daily commutes to paying taxes (which is right around the corner). And while we may not be able to eliminate stress from our lives, there are activities we can do to manage and minimize our stress levels.
Stress increases the cortisol levels in our bodies. Raised cortisol impacts our metabolism, leading to body inflammation and increased weight gain. Further, increased stress negatively impacts memory, heart function, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. However, implementing effective planning into our routines is an integral activity for mitigating stress. To get ahead of the day and week, accomplish critical tasks, and plan fun activities for ourselves and our loved ones, dust off your planner, take stock of your to-dos, organize weekly activities, and make a daily checklist.
Additionally, if we make them a regular part of our routines, long-term healthy habits, such as exercise and regular meditation, can also promote resilience toward stressors. For instance, going for a walk, listening to music, reading a book, taking on a new hobby, or visualizing ourselves in a relaxed or happy setting can help alleviate stress.
One aspect from my military career that I took to value was focusing on the things I can control. When stressed, parse out what you can control from the situation. Start by giving yourself action steps. But if your actions have no impact on the situation, then accept it for what it is and learn from it.
We should always engage in critical thinking and try to look at negative situations from fresh perspectives by examining them from multiple, detailed angles. This helps identify the pros and cons, and positives and negatives.
Finally, EXERCISE! I can’t recommend this enough. Exercise has direct stress-management benefits. It increases our overall health and sense of well-being. It helps increase the production of our brain’s positive mood neurotransmitters, called endorphins. It provides stress relief for our body, and improves our cardiovascular, digestive, and immune system. It also improves our sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression, and/or anxiety.
Exercise – or “PT” as we called it in the Navy – is essentially “meditation in motion.” After a game of basketball, a long walk or run, or several laps in the pool, we’ll find that we’ve forgotten the day’s irritants and stressors when concentrating on our body’s movements. We’ll find our stress levels decreased and our sense of command over our body and life have increased.
Just like one rose in a dozen roses has its own character, you too are one rose in other people’s lives. So, water your life with stress management techniques. Plan, visualize, and exercise so you stay in full bloom. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your loved ones!
“When you look into the mirror, that’s the one person that you cannot lie to.”
– SOC SEAL David Goggins USN (Ret.)
Written by: Kwasi Sneed
Additional stress-management activities, detailed by the Centers for Disease Control Recommendations for Coping with Stress, include:
- Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed but hearing about the traumatic event constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple of times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.
- Taking care of yourself. Eat healthy foods, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
- Taking care of your body.
- Taking deep breaths, stretching, or meditating.
- Eating healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Exercising regularly.
- Getting plenty of sleep.
- Avoiding excessive alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.
- Continuing with routine preventive measures (such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, etc.) as recommended by your healthcare provider.
- Making time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Talking to others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
- Connecting with your community- or faith-based organizations.
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
- Recognizing when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor.