Monday, July 29, 2013

4 stress reduction tips to balance your stress account

I discuss balancing your stress account often on this blog because it's one of the things that anyone can do that will have a fairly dramatic impact on their health.  The first step in balancing your stress account is identifying that you have one.  Anyone can see that as they accumulate more stress the need to unwind or get away becomes greater.  For some reason, most people only take the chance to unwind when they go on vacation or have a special event such as a wedding or birthday that allows them to get together with friends and just relax.  While good times such as these are always great to have, incorporating stress reduction strategies on a daily basis can help improve health and well being.  Below are four strategies to help add funds to your stress account.

Daily commute?  Try laughing.

Most people begin their work day with a commute to work.  Whether your commute is 15 minutes or an hour, a good strategy to reduce the stress of being in traffic, or just get your day started off on the right foot is to laugh.  A great way to add humor to your car, bus or train ride to work is to listen to some comedy on your iphone, ipod, or radio.  There are many apps that will allow you to listen to stand up comedy or even funny podcasts that will take the stress out of your commute and get your day started right.  Pandora and Spotify are 2 free apps that have multiple options for comedy stations.

Get to bed early

We live in a very sleep deprived society.  We have tons of things going on during the day and those things don't just go away at night.  Whether you set yourself up for failure by not getting to bed early enough or you have a problem clearing your head once you get to bed, poor sleep can take a toll on your health and negatively impact your ability to handle stress.  Spend a week trying to build better sleeping habits by getting to bed with the lights out and all electronics off by 10pm.  If you have trouble falling asleep because your mind races, try focusing on your breath as you fall asleep.  If your mind begins to wander, don't get upset, just slowly bring your focus back to your breath.

Practice mindfulness

Many people are familiar with mindfulness as it pertains to mindfulness meditation.  While meditation is a great way to begin practicing mindfulness, it is not the end all be all for mindfulness.  Being mindful is about being in the present and not focusing on the past or future.  By focusing on the now, the stresses of what has happened and/or what will happen won't have as detrimental of an effect on your ability to deal with stress.  In addition, one of the added benefits of mindfulness is that it teaches you how to process information without generating an emotional response.  Brain imaging studies show practicing mindfulness decreases brain activity in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.  The amygdala has a direct connection to the hypothalamus which is the part of the brain that initiates the stress response. 

Foam roll/stretch

Many people realize the importance in maintaining their flexibility with a regular stretching program.  Whether you end every workout with a good full body stretching routine or participate in a yoga class, you may not be getting the full benefit from your program if you fail to address your fascia.  Fascia is a network of connective tissue that runs throughout the body.  It contains many mechanoreceptors and allows muscles to transmit forces more efficiently as well as glide over one another without friction.  During times of chronic stress, the fascia begins to tighten which does a couple of things.  First, it can lead to pain and fatigue as blood vessels and nerves run through it and can become entangled.  Second, while stress causes the fascia to tighten, tight fascia increases stress which can lead to an endless cycle.  Compounding the problem is that fascia doesn't respond to stretching, it responds to pressure, so merely stretching the muscle isn't enough.  In fact, the muscle is 300x more extensible than fascia so most of the restrictions people have in their range of motion have to do with tight or restricted fascia, not tight muscles.  Massage is a good way to address the fascia, but you can also address the fascia by using a foam roller and then stretching afterward.  This allows you to free up restrictions and break up adhesions in the fascia with foam rolling and then restore length to the muscle with stretch.  This is a killer combination for relieving stress and reducing or eliminating pain. 

Foam rolling the IT band
Taken from


There are many ways to help manage your stress account.  By digging deep in to the physiology of stress, you can identify many tools you can use to help balance your stress account.  Laughing, getting 8 hours of quality sleep, practicing mindfulness, and performing a foam rolling/stretching routine regularly are all helpful tools you can use to manage your stress account.  Each of these tools works through a different mechanism so combining all of these methods should have an additive or synergistic effect on helping you manage stress.