April 7th, 2017
By Jillian Mellum
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in, and breathe out.
April is Stress Awareness Month and I encourage you to stop, take a moment and reflect. Have you noticed any symptoms that may be related to stress, possibly from work? Or maybe from current relationships and day-to-day pressures? Stress can influence your body, mood and behavior.
Maybe you recognize one or more of just some of the symptoms listed above. Stress is a natural part of life and can be beneficial for situations that require a boost in energy or specific tasks that require intense focus. Stress and the release of cortisol held an evolutionary benefit and gave us the ability to react quickly and to our advantage in fight or flight situations.
However, the prolonged and chronic stress we experience in modern society has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure and even changes in the brain. These physical changes can make it more difficult to learn and retain information and have even been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. 
It’s clear that long-term stress is unhealthy but worrying about it certainly won’t help alleviate it. While stress is an inevitable component of life, we have four suggestions that have been proven effective in protecting against the damaging effects of chronic stress.
Do you enjoy dancing, team sports, or the feel of your feet pounding the pavement? Find an activity that gets you excited and start doing it. Exercise reduces stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins which help you to relax. Even the act of taking a walk during your lunch break three or more times a week can benefit you and your brain’s learning, concentration and reasoning abilities 
If you need a little help finding motivation, ask a friend to be your exercise buddy.
Spending quality time with companions can help you relax. When you engage with the people you care about you will find yourself temporarily distracted from your own stressful circumstances. Social support can directly impact your stress level by increasing the hormone Oxytocin, responsible for decreasing anxiety levels. 
Deep breathing and meditation are tools you can use to combat stress when you feel your muscles tense and your heart rate increase. If you can sit quietly and be present in the moment, you will notice that your heart rate will start to slow down as you concentrate on your breathing, allowing your muscles to relax. Short-term meditation has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain and improve mood and neuroplasticity. 
If you find meditation challenging, you’re not alone. On some occasions, the task of quieting my mind seems stressful in and of itself. Different relaxation techniques will be more or less effective depending on the individual. Find one that’s right for you. Maybe yoga or tai chi are more to your liking.
And if that doesn’t work, treat yourself to a massage!
It’s important that you take time out of your busy schedule to take care of yourself. Set time aside for hobbies and activities you love. Reading a book, listening to music, playing an instrument or dabbling in the arts, whatever it may be, give yourself the opportunity to enjoy it. Your body and your brain with thank you for it.
For more information on stress and stress management visit https://www.imh.com.sg.
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