In Part 1, I discussed the Problems of Chronic Stress and how it can damage our health. In Part 2, I will discuss the solutions to prevent chronic stress.
What can be done to prevent chronic stress?
First, I want to make it clear that there are social sources of stress in which the solution would require social and political changes. These include discrimination, lack of adequate and proper medical care, low wages, and many other social disparities. These stressors are a social justice issue. Given this as a context, what I am discussing today are ways that we can support ourselves while also recognizing the bigger picture of the world we live in.
I want to reiterate that having time to recover between episodes of stress is crucial to help us manage stress and prevent it from becoming chronic. Throughout the day, there are small habits that we can practice that will help our bodies recover from daily stressors. Because life happens and we can’t avoid all stress, the best solution is to find ways to take care of ourselves.
Solution 1: Find healthy ways to manage stress. 60 % of those who are stressed find relief from spending time with family and friends according to a 2014 national poll done by NPR and Harvard School of Public Health. (Knox & Neighmond, 2014).
Solution 2: Emma Seppala, a Stanford psychologist and happiness researcher, recommends breathing as a way to decrease stress hormones. Find moments throughout the day to take a breath deep into your belly; this can quickly calm stress and make a profound shift. (Mejia, Z., 2017)
Solution 3: Stress researcher Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar states that the key to reducing chronic stress is “grandma’s advice: Sleep well, eat and exercise in moderation, and engage in activities that help you feel relaxed and rested.”(Good Stress, Bad Stress, 2018)
Solution 4: In addition to the above, I would like to share another solution that has made a personal impact on my life. I first learned about self-compassion when I watched a Ted Talk given by Dr. Kristin Neff. Self-compassion is a way of relating to yourself with kindness. The basic idea is to extend the same kindness to yourself that you would give to someone you love.
Many people do the opposite- when faced with difficulties, they criticize and speak to themselves in a way they would never speak to someone they cared about. This self-criticism doesn’t motivate us, in fact, this increases the stress and pressure we feel.
Self-compassion deactivates the fight or flight response and lowers stress hormones. (Neff & Dahm) Studies show that self-compassion helps people to have more resilience in the face of stressful experiences, and people who have self-compassion participate in healthier behaviors that reduce the stress response. (Horman & Sirois, 2017)
If you are recognizing yourself as someone who could develop more self-compassion, the great news is that self-compassion can be learned. Dr. Kristin Neff defines three components to self-compassion.
The next time you are in a challenging situation, think of how you usually respond. Do you tend to beat yourself up and criticize yourself and add more stress and pressure to your life? Imagine doing something different.
Imagine that you take a moment to put your hand over your heart, take a deep breath and connect to yourself. Imagine how it would feel to say to yourself, “This is difficult. This difficulty is part of being human. I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m giving myself kindness and compassion. What can I do to take care of myself in this moment?”
Imagine how much better that feels.
By incorporating these four solutions into your life, you can decrease the effects of stress and protect yourself from the harmful effects of chronic stress. For those who need more support, I suggest working with a therapist who can support you and help you gain more skills to manage stress.
I highly recommend checking out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website and watching her Ted Talk. You can find more information on self-compassion.org.
Good Stress. Bad Stress: Research identifies health impact of different responses. (2012, December 12). Retrieved from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/12/good-stress-bad-stress.html
Homan, K.J., & Sirois, F.M. (2017 Jul-Dec.). Self-compassion and physical health. Exploring the roles of perceived stress and health-promoting behaviors. Health Psychology Open, 4(2), 1-9.
Knox, R. & Neighmond, P. (2014, July 7). For Many Americans, Stress Takes A Toll On Health And Family. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/07/07/323351759/for-many-americans-stress-takes-a-toll-on-health-and-family
Mejia, Z. (2017, Dec. 14). Here’s how being stressed at work can hurt you physically- and what you can do to beat it. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/14/the-harmful-effects-of-stress-at-work-and-what-you-can-do-to-beat-it.html
Neff, K.D., & Dahm, K.A. (2014) Self-compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. Retrieved from: https://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/Mindfulness_and_SC_chapter_in_press.pdf