Stress Busters

Posted on March 8, 2009 by

You can’t take your mind off the looming mortgage payment or the pile of credit card bills sitting on your desk; and despite your best efforts, that perfect ending you crafted for the advanced tap class’ recital number just isn’t coming together. If those thoughts sound familiar, you are not alone.
While it’s normal to worry, stressing over life’s uncertainties can be both mentally and physically hazardous. Research shows that stress can increase one’s susceptibility to a number of ailments, including heart problems, insomnia, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes  and depression.

But there is no textbook method to dealing with stress. The key is to find what works best for you and stick to it. But beware of those actions that appear to relieve stress, like drinking, overeating, smoking and withdrawing from everyday life—they will ultimately cause more harm than good. Take note of these simple remedies that can help you handle stressful situations in a positive and healthy manner.

Physical Fitness
One easy technique that can relieve anxiety is controlled breathing. “If you place both hands in front of you and clench your fists, it becomes harder to breathe,” explains Dr. Linda Hamilton, a clinical psychologist and author of The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body and Nutrition. “Stress has this same response, which you can break by closing your eyes and taking five deep breaths.”

Some stresses, though, are too heavy to resolve with simple breathing. It’s best to tackle the more pressing issues after physically clearing your mind by exercising. A study conducted by the Technical University of Munich proved the long-contested fact that aerobic exercise signals the brain to release endorphins—the chemical known to refresh the mind and produce feelings of euphoria. Find a physical activity outside of the studio that makes you feel good. Try playing tennis or volleyball, or find a new type of dance, and commit to doing it a couple of times a week.

Peace of Mind
There’s a reason why Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret sold 5.3 million copies in the United States alone: The mind is an incredibly powerful tool, and just like over-stressing can cause physical sickness, being optimistic in worrisome times can do the exact opposite.

Maintaining a positive attitude isn’t always an easy task, but it’s crucial to focus energy on your strengths rather than on shortcomings. “The fact is, most dancers are perfectionists who tend to set unrealistic goals,” says Hamilton. Positive self-talk is a technique athletes use to help approach off-days in a more realistic manner. But it’s not just about teaching people to repeat self-affirmations. Instead, think about what you might say to your best friend if posed with the same situation. “It helps to bring a more objective view to a bad day,” says Hamilton. Of course, this strategy isn’t going to solve all problems overnight, but it will give you a fresh perspective. As poet Maya Angelou once said, “If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

You Are Not Alone
You can get by with a little help from your friends. Set aside time to spend with close loved ones. If you feel comfortable, confide in them the struggles you’re facing. Chances are, they have experienced a similar dilemma; listen carefully to how they overcame that point in time. Speak to a professional if you have trouble sharing such personal information. Sometimes an unbiased perspective is what one needs to help them understand the bigger picture, says Hamilton. Bottling up feelings might work for now, but it’s only a matter of time before those emotions take a toll on your health.

Rest Does the Soul Good
According to Hamilton, the adult body needs at least eight to 10 hours of sleep each night to recharge. With increasingly demanding work schedules, family obligations and personal commitments, disconnecting from life for that long can be difficult. Even dozing for a few hours will help strengthen the immune system and clear your mind.

If you become restless when trying to fall asleep, take a moment to jot down your thoughts. Transferring worries onto paper will contain the mounting stress until the morning. Revisit the issues after resting, and you’ll be much better equipped to manage them.

You Are What You Eat
A healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, whole grains, protein, vegetables and legumes has been proven to boost the immune system, increase energy and improve mental clarity. While this isn’t groundbreaking news, healthy eating is often the first thing to go when times get tough. So watch the food you consume, as it may have more of an impact on your well-being than you realize.

Enjoy the right foods at the right time, and never eat when you’re not hungry. Cut out large servings of caffeine as well as foods high in fat and sugar—they’ll leave you feeling anxious, jittery and drained. Instead, try healthy alternatives like soy or green tea ice cream if you’re craving something sweet.

Let It Be
Regardless of how well we try to avoid them, unexpected and sometimes unwelcome circumstances occur. “It’s an unavoidable part of life,” says Hamilton. “But it’s not all bad. Short-term stress can actually help motivate you to perform better. If you were always complacent, think of how boring life would be. The problem occurs when the stress becomes chronic and long-term.”

Dwelling on the things we cannot control deprives us of enjoying the good things in our lives. Make a list or keep a journal that details all you’re grateful for—your family, students, health or even a favorite book—and use it as a helpful reminder during any rough patches.

There will always be bills to pay, career demands, heartbreak and loss to endure. But if it weren’t for those things, we’d never understand or appreciate all that life has to offer. So let life’s troubles be, and when you find yourself feeling stressed, start with a couple of deep breaths to reconfigure your path.

NYC-based freelance writer Tatiana Munoz holds an MA in journalism from Syracuse University.

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