This is a guest article by Angela Stone
Stress reduction techniques often recommended by physicians include intensive exercise, meditation, guided imagery and a healthy diet.
These methods can reduce cortisol levels and eventually help you to relax if you stick with them long enough.
You want to follow your doctor’s advice, but when you’ve had a hard day at the office, the kids won’t stop fighting or the neighbor’s dog keeps barking while you’re trying to watch your favorite sitcom, it’s much easier to reach for a couple of miniature chocolate bars and a double scotch on the rocks.
Problems with Stress Management Techniques
Noncompliance isn’t a deliberate attempt to avoid healthier alternatives.
Most people do begin to take many of the proposed steps that can lead to a reduction in anxiety and improved health. You buy steel-cut oats, switch from bottled dressings to olive oil and vinegar, try to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and quicken the pace of your daily walk around the block.
The problem is that jogging, weight-bearing exercises and changes in diet take weeks to work.
To gain an edge, you don’t have weeks to wait. You need to know how to reduce stress right now.
If that doesn’t happen, you won’t stick with your newfound changes long enough for them to improve your life. You’ll just keep reaching for an unhealthy option that gives you instant gratification, pleasure and relief.
Step one in any new endeavor is always awareness. That awareness is what gave you the determination and will to change your unhealthy habits in the first place.
You know that you need to find a better way to cope with the stress in your life, but how do you do that? How can you win the battle?
Eating and drinking are typical reactions to stress. They’re easy and quick.
When stressed, what the body is looking for is pleasure. Eating and drinking provide that as soon as the sugar or alcohol stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain.
While a hefty bowl of salt-free oatmeal, a trip to the gym or popping a meditation tape into the VCR can work to alleviate tension, for most people, they’re boring. They may work for a few weeks, but you won’t experience lasting results because they do not bring you pleasure. They bring you discomfort, and the body seeks to get rid of discomfort as strongly as it reaches for joy.
Find Activities You Enjoy Doing
To win the battle takes a little thought, but it is not unpleasant.
Mostly, it requires you to pay attention to your unhealthy tendencies. Don’t place blame or judge what you’re doing. Just look for the areas where you need to make a change.
Since most people perform unhealthy reactions to stress unconsciously, this step is essential. Once you know which unhealthy behaviors are gratifying and which healthy behaviors are not, you can work on finding activities you enjoy.
Whatever you choose, it must be enjoyable and relaxing. If that’s a long soak in a bubble bath, a trip to a sauna or a massage therapist, then that’s what you do. If you find a late night dip in the pool, an evening at the movies or a trip down the Colorado rapids relaxing, then plan those adventures and do them.
The same goes for food. Don’t settle for plain chicken breast and steamed vegetables. Seek out new and creative recipes. Buy a new cookbook, or join a healthy living online forum. The goal is to find healthy methods of escape instead of continuously fighting the battle against drudgery.
Angela Stone is a freelance writer