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What is Stress?

Posted on: December 1st, 2017

The holidays are here! This time of year brings delicious food, some much needed time off work, and quality family time. But it also brings the stresses of holiday shopping, party planning, and (let’s face it) quality family time. As we approach Christmas and New Year’s we will be posting a three part series on stress – healthy ways to bust it and stretches that can relieve some of the physical symptoms that come with stress.

But first, what exactly IS stress?

Stress is our reaction to an environment that is presenting a challenge. These challenges can be short term, which creates a short term response to this abnormal events. Think the jolt you get when you open your shower curtain and see a giant spider, or the burst of speed when you’re pushing yourself to the fastest you have ever run on a treadmill for 30 seconds. These short term responses to normal events still present their own health challenges.

Then, there are long term stressors. These can be either a series of stressful events happening one right after the other (a domino effect of stress, if you will) or chronic stress that may come from an ever-present and unchanging stressor – examples could be an extremely rigorous exercise routine, unhealthy job conditions, or even becoming caretaker for an ailing family member.

These environmental challenges produce tangible effects in our body.
Mentally: anxiety, distraction, feeling overwhelmed and unable to focus
Physically: muscle strain, soreness, tension, slouching posture

But, the real kicker with stress is that mental stress can actually produce physical effects in our bodies. Over half of chronic diseases and dysfunctions in the body can be linked to stress. So, what can we do to help ease and cope with our mental stress? One simple tip: Breathe.

The stress response can be reduced by consciously breathing using the diaphragm. Shallow, upper chest breathing is a part of the typical stress response. Making a conscious effort to breathe using the abdomen can reduce the stress response. Abdominal breathing helps control the nervous system and encourages the body to relax, relieving tension and bringing with it a range of health benefits.

To focus on abdominal breathing, sit comfortably and raise your ribcage to expand your chest. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take notice of how your upper chest and abdomen are moving while you breathe. Concentrate on your breath and try to gently breathe in and out through the nose. Your upper chest should be still while your breath is coming primarily from expanding your lower abdomen. This allows the diaphragm to work more efficiently with your abdomen rather than your chest, creating slower, deeper breathes that can ease stress.

Try taking 2 minutes out of your day to concentrate on abdominal breathing. You deserve some stress-free moments this holiday season!