Stress by definition is a state of emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Small amounts of stress are very normal and actually the way our bodies respond to danger and challenge. If the body spends too much time in the state of stress, however, it becomes harmful. Chronic stress leaves us vulnerable to illness and depression.
There are any number of different reasons to feel stressed in midlife. Personal relationships, and the complexities they bring, can be a big factor. Work issues commonly cause stress, as do financial strains. There’s also the stress of being the caregiver to aging parents, and dealing with the loneliness of an empty nest. Women, especially, may stress over perfectionism, and health related issues such as menopause.
The symptoms of stress can be physical, emotional and behavioral. Some signs of physical symptoms are low energy and fatigue, headaches, diarrhea and constipation, general aches and pains, insomnia, lack of sex drive, and chest pains. Emotional symptoms can range from feeling overwhelmed, to changing moods, feelings of worthlessness, and low self-esteem. The behavioral symptoms to watch for are a changing appetite, sudden procrastination, increased use in alcohol or drugs, and nail biting or other nervous habits.
Over time, chronic stress can cause major health complications including depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, heart disease and high blood pressure, which may lead to stroke, obesity and other eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, and skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and hair loss. Research even shows that stress ages us, psychologically and also physically.
Ways to Reduce Midlife Stress
There are plenty of ways to combat stress on your own. While leaving a work environment or marriage that causes great stress may sound like a perfect solution, for many of us it just isn’t that simple. Don’t worry, there are other ways of reducing stress. You will be surprised at how well a combination of the following steps will help you lessen your stress levels and make you feel better.
Meditation – Short, daily meditation can have a profound and positive impact on stress levels and promote overall health and wellness. It does more than temporarily help you relax. It works on a deep level by changing the function and structure of your brain. Meditation actually reprograms your brain to be less anxious. It may take some practice to clear your mind and focus on the present, but the process will become easier with time and take just minutes a day.
Get Moving – Any exercise will give you a boost. Studies show that a 10 minute walk may be just as good as a 45 minute workout. You’ll find walking will fill you with fresh air, or the slow movements of Tai Chi will be like a moving meditation. More cardio or aerobic activity will give you a sense of focus and achievement. Any of these types of physical activity will produce endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural pain relievers.
Read – Disengage your mind from your worries and escape into a good book. When you read, your mind has to concentrate and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in the muscles, and actually lowers the heart rate. Just six minutes of reading can begin to reduce stress.
Breathe – Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Practice deep breathing using your diaphragm, focusing on careful and intentional breathing can help center your thoughts and ease your body’s stress reactions. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress.
Green Tea – Drinking green tea can have a mildly stimulating but also relaxing effect at the same time. It contains many polyphenol antioxidants which provide health benefits and lowers stress and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels. A recent study has shown that if you drink five cups of green tea each day, you may reduce occurrences of psychological distress by up to 20 percent.
Pet an Animal – The touch of the soft fur and positive attention given by the animal is very soothing. Physical contact and touch with animals can actually lead to the body producing oxytocin, a hormone that reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Caring for a pet will give you a sense of purpose, provide companionship and keep you active.
Get a Massage – Massage relieves the stress of knotted muscles and calms the body. Human touch on the body is a stress reducer, so in between visits to the spa, if possible, have your partner massage your back or neck and shoulders. In addition to stress relief, ongoing massage therapy can reduce pain, increase energy levels and improve overall physical and mental performance.
Warm Bath –The warmth of the bath will help sore and tightened muscles to relax. Add some essential oils or lavender to the bath before bed and help fight off insomnia. The addition of Epsom salts in your warm bath has been proven to help reduce inflammation in your joints. By relieving this pain, you can help reduce the stress that it causes.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine – avoid altogether or reduce use
- Diet – maintain a balanced diet and do not binge when feeling stressed
- Get more sleep – having a warm bath and reading before bed will help while avoiding television, cell phones, tablets that stimulate
- Learn to say no – saying no to additional or unimportant requests, this will even help you develop more self confidence
Midlife stress is a common issue that and can be dealt with quite well. Sometimes, just making the time to read a book, take a walk, have a cup of green tea, or relax in a warm bath will be enough to do amazing things to your mind and body.
If you believe you are suffering from chronic stress, it is important to consult your primary care physician. Many of the symptoms associated with stress can be attributed with other ailments which may need to be looked at more closely. If necessary, your doctor can recommend a therapist to help you cope with your stress.