We’ve all heard that stress affects our health, but are we really aware of just how much, or that we have options to reduce it?
Stress dramatically affects the central nervous system; the brain; the respiratory, cardiovascular, muscular, digestive and immune systems; and quite simply, the entire human body. Stress can result in anything from anxiety to depression, headaches, high blood pressure, heartburn, backaches, infertility and a compromised immune system, as well as a host of other serious health issues.
Stress can debilitate an otherwise perfectly healthy person. If you have health issues already, stress can knock you down flat. Since stress is everywhere, it’s all about how we deal with it. Fortunately, real solutions to our stresses exist—here are five specific ways to reduce it:
1. Recognize free-floating anxiety
Sometimes we don’t even realize we are stressed. There may be unresolved issues free-floating in our minds that we don’t acknowledge or understand. Try to pinpoint that gnawing feeling in the back of your mind that makes you feel uneasy, depressed, or unhappy. Acknowledging and facing those issues will start the process of resolving them. After you acknowledge the issue, take the next step:
2. Take care of yourself
Regular physical activity has been shown to greatly reduce stress. Yoga and deep breathing as well as massage are good for your body and for relaxation. A healthy diet with less red meat, dairy, sugar, processed carbohydrates and more fresh fruit and vegetables can be extremely helpful. Be sure to keep hydrated. Make a regular sleep schedule of 7-9 hours your evening ritual and give it a high priority. Then:
3. Make time for others, for laughter, and for socializing
We all need down-time—to play, relax or just be by ourselves in peace. Take some downtime for yourself each day, cut back on any negative thinking about yourself, and do something with others every day that makes you happy.
Socializing can also be a powerful stress buster, provided it happens with those who raise you up. Socializing lets us give and get emotional, physical and spiritual support. Friends and family can help us navigate rough waters and see solutions we weren’t aware existed. Socializing also reduces the risk of age-related cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, so we can see how much it affects the brain! Be sure you associate with those of like mind; spiritual, loving and non-judgmental people will lift your spirits:
The company of the ungodly increaseth sorrow, whilst fellowship with the righteous cleanseth the rust from off the heart. He that seeketh to commune with God, let him betake himself to the companionship of His loved ones; and he that desireth to hearken unto the word of God, let him give ear to the words of His chosen ones. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 42.
Scientists have proven that laughter and a good sense of humor are powerful stress eradicators. They help us detach from the heaviness of life and see things from a more balanced perspective. Laughter has been shown to have a positive effect on health and mood, so allow yourself some happiness, some joy and some daily laughter:
Happiness is the king of our hearts. Let us not part from it. If the candle of happiness is ignited in the chamber of our heart, all the foreboding gloom of evil suggestions will be dispelled. My home is the home of peace. My home is the home of joy and delight. My home is the home of laughter and exultation. Whosoever enters through the portals of this home, must go out with gladsome heart. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 40.4
4. Use Prayer and Meditation
In the holy scriptures of every religion, prayer and meditation hold a sacred position. Turning to our Creator and stating one’s wishes creates the path to resolving every issue and the consolation of our hearts:
In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. – Philippians 4:16
Prayer clears the mist and brings back peace to the Soul. – Rumi
5. Trust in God
Once you have prayed and meditated on the issue at hand, above all else, trust in God, no matter how hard it is, that in the end everything will turn out right.
One night I lie awake for many hours ruminating in my mind about serious and unsettling issues. I was anxious during the day, but now my anxiety was stealing my sleep. As I hashed the issue over and over again, I finally realized I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I stopped to pray. I prayed for a while but wasn’t finding a solution until I decided to let go of the outcome I wanted so very badly. Instead I decided to trust. I released my thoughts from what I was grasping so tightly. I looked at what I was fearing and fighting and began to see it in a different light. The stress started slowing exiting my body. It was a release of trusting even though the outcome was uncertain. After four hours of stressful worrying, I fell asleep peacefully. In the morning I woke up, on the first day of spring. To my delight, after two weeks of agitation, I received an email that completely resolved the problem. In the end, trust held the key to my deepest stress:
O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou sleekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 51.