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Removing stress from your life

By Guest Columnist Stephanie Duguid

April was Stress Awareness Month. Take some time to identify signs of chronic stress that may be detrimental to your well-being.


Everyone has moments of stress from time to time, such as when you’re stuck in traffic, or you have a hard day at the office. But, for some people, stress can also become a serious issue. Expose yourself to too much chronic stress and you’re putting yourself at significant risk of a range of health challenges. In fact, experts say that stress is directly connected to many of the main causes of premature death.


The good news is that there are various ways you can begin to cut down on stress, from exercising to changing your routine. However, before you get started, it’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of stress. Be aware of these red flags:


1. Tooth or jaw pain. Yes, stress does affect your teeth, more than you might think. If you’ve noticed soreness in your jaw or pain in your gums, then it might be because you’re dealing with feelings of stress. Grinding your teeth is often something that you may not even realize you’ve been doing until you get to the dentist, and they berate you for signs of bruxism. If you do notice signs of discomfort in your jaw, check with your dentist to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to protect your teeth.

2. Your memory is getting worse. As your schedule becomes more overwhelming, and you end up with more things to think about each day, it’s easy to brush off issues with forgetfulness. However, if your memory is really letting you down lately, it could be because of stress. When you’re putting your brain under too much pressure, you expose it to a lot of extra work, and you end up getting frazzled or burning out a lot faster. Paying attention to where you lose track of your train of thought could show you where you have too much on your plate. It might be time to slow down.

3. Your digestion isn’t right. Digestive health and stress are closely connected. You might have noticed during stressful periods in the past that you tend to have challenges with heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation. These are all common gastrointestinal symptoms of stress. Your stomach will often churn and feel uncomfortable when you’re stressed because feelings of anxiety cause the body to produce additional digestive acid. These feelings can also mean that you don’t empty food from your stomach as quickly as you should, which leads to cramping, gas, and bloating.

4. You’re always thirsty. If you’re constantly suffering from a major thirst, it’s worth speaking to a doctor. Excessive thirst can be a sign of things like diabetes. However, you could also be dehydrated because of excess stress. That’s because stress causes your body to pump out extra hormones from your adrenal glands. Those glands are also responsible for the hormones that regulate the fluid levels in your body, as well as electrolytes. If your adrenal glands are worn out, then the body might feel like it needs more hydration when it really doesn’t. Although upping your H2O intake shouldn’t cause any problems, it’s still a sign of a long-term problem that’s important to rectify.

5. Your muscles are sore. Sore muscles often happen as a result of tension. If you’re under a ton of stress, your body responds by involuntarily tensing up. This can gradually lead to more body pain over time because your muscles aren’t used to being under that much strain. When your body is in fight or flight mode, this produces excess cortisol, too, and more tensing. The same way you suffer from soreness from grinding your teeth, you could experience soreness elsewhere in your body because you’re placing more pressure on your muscles. A good massage or a hot bath might help in the short term, but eventually you’ll need to tackle stress.

6. Your sleep pattern is inconsistent. If you’re having trouble with falling asleep at night, it could be because stress is making it harder for you to relax. It’s likely that you spend a lot of time thinking about the things that worry you when you’re in bed. After all, there’s nothing else to take your mind off those worries. You might also notice that you’re having more odd dreams because of your stress. On the other hand, some people experience a desire to sleep more often when they’re stressed. This could be an indication that you’re not just suffering from stress, but that you’re having issues with anxiety and depression too. Consider speaking to your doctor about these issues. They should be able to offer some personalized guidance.


It's critical to your health and wellbeing that you learn to relieve stress. Try these 15 Simple Ways to Stress Less to building your resilience and creating a calmer environment.


To build resilience:

1. Slow down. Cut your to do list down to a realistic size. Schedule breaks throughout the day. Breathe deeply. Your feelings are closely tied to your breath. Lie down on your back and place one hand on your abdomen. Your body will naturally start to breathe more fully from your diaphragm rather than taking shallow breaths from your chest.

2. Laugh it up. Humor drives away tension. Look for the funny side of difficult situations.

3. Eat healthy. Sticking to a balanced diet will make your body more effective at tolerating stress. Get most of your calories from natural whole foods. Cut down on added sugar and salt.

4. Sleep well. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Move your bedtime back an hour each night until you are able to wake up feeling refreshed.

5. Work out. Exercise is a constructive way to handle disturbing news or conflicts at work. Buy resistance bands so you can do strength training movements at home.

6. Create something. Creativity is another stress buster. Find a medium that you enjoy. You may want to paint, cook, or write.

7. Reach out. Build a network of mutually supportive relationships. Connect with positive family and friends on a regular basis.

8. Advocate for yourself. Let others know how they can help you. Ask for what you need tactfully and directly.


Environment adjustments:

1. Clear away clutter. A tidy home and workspace will reduce your anxiety levels. Get rid of anything you seldom use. Donate it to charity or sell it online.

2. Add scent. Fragrance is invisible but powerful. Wear your favorite perfume. Practice aromatherapy with soothing essential oils like lavender and chamomile.

3. Play music. Use sound to create the mood you want. Put together a playlist for different activities.

4. Enjoy silence. On the other hand, the lack of sound can also be soothing. Turn off your devices for a designated period each day, including mealtimes and before bed.

5. Decorate naturally. Green spaces are energizing. Spend more time outdoors and bring nature into your home. Grow ferns and herbs..

6. Create a refuge. Design a meditation room or space in your home. If you have trouble meditating, you can use it for reading or relaxation practices.


Dealing with stress is an ongoing process. Take time each day to think about what you can do to make your surroundings more peaceful to protect your health and wellbeing. Make it a priority to take care of yourself by reducing your stress.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Stephanie Duguid is Dean of Academic Instruction at Co-Lin. She is also an athletic trainer and nutrition specialist and has been teaching courses related to those two areas as well as practicing what she preaches for more than twenty years.


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