In a society which largely defines itself by a lack of time, money and recognition, many of us have become conditioned to live in a state of chronic stress without even realizing it. Although it is an inevitable part of life, stress has become the default state of being for many people, with some individuals even unable to function without it.
Chronic stress can undermine our physical and emotional health and relationships in such an insidious way that we may not even be aware of its wrath on our well-being. It can weaken the immune system, produce neck and back pain, aggravate heart and lung disease, contribute to obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and depression, and is estimated by the American Institute of Stress to cost U.S. industry $300 billion per year.
Stressful situations can be an important catalyst for positive personal change in the short term by getting us out of our comfort zone and learning to adapt to new situations. But if we stay in a fight-or-flight mode indefinitely, it will deteriorate our health and keep us so mired in anxiety that we end up squandering away precious energy that could be spent on more positive and productive things.
Breaking free from the clutches of chronic stress, and the unhealthy stasis it produces, usually forces us to confront lifestyle choices we have made. Though we cannot prevent all stress, most of it is ultimately created by our own thoughts, habits and behavior. In fact, we may even subconsciously gravitate toward stressful situations as a kind of distraction from any unresolved shortcomings or issues within ourselves.
Stress reduction is essential for achieving sustainable personal health since it enhances us physically and mentally. You should make it a top priority to get at least seven hours of sleep per night, since this is the best way to reduce stress hormones, as well as to maintain a lower and more stable body weight.
Regular exercise is another great stress reliever. A brisk outdoor walk of just 20 to 30 minutes can do wonders to improve your mood and neutralize stress, as well as keeping your body limber to increase flexibility and reduce aches and pains. Just as important, exercise can give you much-needed down time from your responsibilities, helping to break the self-reinforcing cycle of stressful living.
Meditation is another effective strategy for reducing stress, since it can relieve anxiety and actually help us maintain a more positive outlook on life when done on a consistent basis. Fighting stress can even be as simple as carving out the time to read, doing hobbies, making love, cooking, gardening, or anything else which you enjoy and stimulates your mind or body.
Research now suggests that supportive social relationships may also reduce stress and even enhance longevity by promoting positive chemical reactions in the body. Many social psychologists believe that the success of our interpersonal relationships is the key to health and happiness, with more isolated individuals having a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and suicide. So reach out to loved ones, catch up with friends, make time for your spouse or partner, or enjoy your kids.
Stress is often so ingrained in our lifestyle that it takes a very deliberate and conscious effort to keep it from tainting our outlook and diminishing our well-being. Only we as individuals can choose to create regular respites to protect ourselves from its damaging effects. But when we succeed in breaking the cycle of chronic stress, we unlock a vital key in achieving lasting personal health, as we also find greater happiness with the people and situations around us.