A little stress every now and then can be a good thing. Like most animals, humans have adapted to life with occasional acute-stress episodes. When we feel stressed, our heart rate goes up and our senses sharpen. These are just two features of a complex physical and mental response to stress triggers that has evolved to give us the extra focus, speed and strength we need when “danger” is near.
What we haven’t had time to adapt to is the chronic stress that comes from stress triggers woven into every aspect of our lives. The pervasive stress that comes with living in a world of 24/7 connectivity—a stress I call Cultural Stress®—keeps many of us in a highly charged state at all times. Unlike stress episodes, which allow for recovery time when the “danger” passes, constant Cultural Stress is the product of a never-ending stream of daily triggers that can lead to physical and mental burnout.
Because Cultural Stress is the background noise of modern life, many of us aren’t even aware of how stressed we are and how much damage that stress is doing. Here are 10 classic symptoms of Cultural Stress:
- Trouble with the quantity and quality of sleep
- Poor appetite; excessive appetite; poor food choices
- Digestive issues; acid reflux; constipation; irritable bowel
- Weight gain
- Acne breakouts
- Hair loss; loss of hair color
- Decreased libido
The good news is that we don’t need to give up on modern life in order to better defend our minds and bodies from the impacts of Cultural Stress. We just need to make a few small adjustments to give ourselves a chance to recover. Here are 10 tips to help you conquer Cultural Stress:
1. Eat defensively.
A diet built upon a foundation of colorful fruits and vegetables creates less cell-damaging inflammation; provides you with cell-protective antioxidants to counterbalance some of the free radical damage stress hormones can create; helps you stay hydrated; and gives you the fiber you need to regularize digestion, eliminate fats and feed your body’s probiotic organisms.
The boost that exercise provides for your mind and every system in your body has been extensively documented. Everyone knows they should exercise more, but only a very small percentage of us get the regular exercise we need. The challenge is sticking with a program. The best way to incorporate exercise into your life is to find something you look forward to doing so that your exercise routine becomes rewarding “me” time instead of another chore or source of guilt.
3. Unplug and develop good sleep habits.
Sleep is not an option. Sleep is an essential maintenance period for both mind and body. It’s also something that truly requires 7 to 9 hours in each 24-hour day. Trying to time-shift and catch up on lost sleep when the weekend rolls around only creates the equivalent of mild jet lag. In order to get both the quality and quantity of sleep you need, avoid cell phones, computers, mobile tablets and television for at least an hour before you try to go to sleep. The intense light from these devices mimics daylight and inhibits initiation of your natural sleep cycle.
4. Schedule massages regularly.
Think of massage as the opposite of stress. The deep relaxation that a massage induces can certainly feel like an indulgence, but the boost to circulation, lymph clearance and overall wellness elevate this high-touch treatment to a higher status as a critical part of routine health maintenance. Another huge plus is the quiet time away from the texts, calls and emails that a massage provides.
5. Schedule facials regularly.
In addition to helping your skin recover from stress damage, facials are another high-touch personal service that gives you many of the physical and emotional benefits of massage.
6. Spend time in the company of people you like.
We live in a world of more and more electronic connections that leave less time for “real” connections to friends and loved ones. No virtual experience can provide the validation and rewards of face-to-face, eye-to-eye human contact.
Think of meditation as a brief mental vacation. No matter what form of meditation you choose—secular, sacred, solo or group—the practice of quieting the mind by focusing on a single thought or stimulus has been shown to improve cognitive performance, make you more resistant to depression and help you better cope with acute and cultural stressors.
8. Pursue a passion.
Life’s chronic stress is the last thing on your mind when you give yourself permission to create and express yourself without fear of judgment or failure.
Giving of ourselves, when we do so freely and without expectations, helps reset our perspective so that we can better appreciate the good things in our lives. Like meditation, volunteering can also give us a different focus to help shift our thoughts away from things that are negative, such as unproductive preoccupations or worries.
10. Adjust your attitude.
Want to sleep like a baby? Start taking life lessons from your inner toddler. Greet the day with a sense of adventure and enthusiasm. Laugh, run, sing, spin, dust yourself off when you fall and start all over again. Toddlers aren’t burdened with history that holds them back from diving into the future. Toddlers haven’t learned to view life through an intellectual lens that gives shape to concepts like “failure,” “disaster” and “the end of the world.” By embracing their innocent and inherently optimistic worldview, we can be open to the limitless possibilities for happiness that come with each new day.
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