It sneaks up, grabs hold and suddenly we can’t recall the simplest things. We lash out at others, cry for no reason, or just feel overwhelmed wondering, “what’s wrong with me?” We blame all sorts of things when often it’s not just one but a crescendo of little things that finally scream in our reactions. Cumulatively and simply it’s stress. And the sooner we deal with it, the fewer moments it will steal from our lives.
As we continue our #habit series of lifestyle factors impacting our memory, stress is up next. The feedback I receive when talking about stress varies based on the age of the audience. I think part of it is based on our awareness and ability to call a spade a spade. Older generations don’t believe they are stressed. Or if they are, they don’t or won’t name it as such. My hypothesis on why this occurs is based on their life experiences. Many of them participated in or at least lived through world wars, economic depressions, etc. They dealt with a lot and many just moved forward. They didn’t lament their plight and discuss their stress, they picked up their bootstraps and moved on. Their hindsight and experience benefit their vision.
Younger generations will discuss (and also stir up) all kinds of stress they have, both real and perceived. My hypothesis on their reason is based on how they have been inundated with visions of how and who they ‘should’ be, act, think etc. for most of their lives. It’s overwhelming with a lot of real and perceived expectations. Their world has always been instantaneous, and they respond just as quickly without much time to process.
Neither one of these reactions to stress is healthy. We cannot deny its presence nor constantly feels its effects. Both create another kind of stress altogether. What we all need to do is understand how stress effects each of us individually and then manage it accordingly.
Boiled down to its essence, stress is the old flight or fight reaction in our bodies to real or perceived dangers. When we worry about the unknown, we create a stress that isn’t even real. But it seems real and our bodies don’t know the difference. The same biological response of increased cortisol levels occurs to prolonged real or perceived stress. Over time this increase can impact production of new memories and alter our mood essentially perpetuating the ongoing stressful reactions and stress itself.
Let’s stop the cycle by managing the stress.
Begin with acknowledging its presence. To older generations, this may seem like a weakness to admit we’re stressed. But often life causes real stress which impacts our bodies and minds. Let’s just call a spade a spade. Once we acknowledge it, we can manage and not dwell on it.
Everyone has their own ways of managing stress and not all are healthy or productive. Alcohol and drug dependency, over or undereating, defensiveness, and denial are not healthy stress management techniques. However, many of us choose these routes rather than deal with the underlying stressors leading to these behaviors. Instead, let’s choose some healthy options:
- Talk about it. This doesn’t have to mean lying on a couch in a doctor’s office (although it may), but it can be as simple as talking to a trusted friend or loved one, praying, or writing things out in a journal. Get it out to begin to deal with it.
- Exercise! Think about it-if stress is really a fight or flight response-then exercise will mimic the “flight” portion in a productive way that essentially burns up that accumulating cortisol in a healthy way. Not to mention the overall benefits it adds to our physical and mental wellness.
- Relax. This may seem simple, but the act of consciously shifting our minds to slow down and our bodies to react and breathe differently is powerful. No special technique is needed or has been shown to be any more effective. Whether it’s deep breaths, mindfulness, meditation, hypnosis, or just resting quietly, actively shifting the mind and body to relax works wonders.
- Laugh! Laughter sometimes is the best medicine. But when stressed it seems like the last thing we can do. Try to find something to laugh about-search dog or cat pictures or laughing babies on the internet and you’re bound to find something that makes you laugh. Talk with a friend and reminisce about funny moments. Try to find a moment of fun and laughter to lower your stress.
- Plan for fun. It may seem like the most contrary thing to do in the middle of a stressful time, but it can be the most rewarding. It helps to shift our focus like many of these techniques and reminds us that life is meant to be lived, not worried over. Plan for even just a few moments of something fun for yourself each day and don’t feel guilty doing it.
Stress comes in many forms and continues throughout our lives. It threatens to steal our moments if we aren’t careful. Let’s choose to manage it and not give it a minute of our time that isn’t necessary. Our moments are precious, let’s choose to live them as stress free as possible!