How to decrease stress and increase happiness

by Dr Karen Chan (Acupuncturist, Physiotherapist)

Unfortunately I see stress and its impacts in every day life in the clinic all too often. Small amounts of stress can be stimulating, but extreme stress will drain us internally, and potentially manifest as symptoms. Headaches, migraines, muscle tension, chronic pain, recurrent injuries, digestive issues, insomnia, loss of libido, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, lack of motivation, lack of concentration, drug/alcohol abuse, increased blood pressure, fatigue, skin conditions...are all just some symptoms of STRESS. 

The science of stress:

When the body perceives stress, it is normal for the body to undertake the stress ‘fight or flight’ response, in turn releasing corticotropin releasing hormones and catecholemines in the body. You will get acute stress physiological responses including increased heart rate, muscle tension, sweating; however these are temporary. This acute stress response can be responsible for symptoms like headaches, sleep disturbances, fatigue, upset tummies and emotional lability. However if the body undergoes continued longer term stress, the continued activation and presence of these stress hormones can contribute towards the more serious body responses and conditions, including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, weight changes, chronic pain, change in libido, potential menstrual irregularities, fertility issues, and skin issues

Who gets stressed:

Stress with relationships, work, family, financial, health, death, moving, expectations, exams, emotional imbalance, unhappiness, trauma, fears, an inability to adapt to changes. Stress is a natural process but when there is imbalance between our stress and our coping mechanisms, this is when our problems arise. 

prospect meditation and mindfulness

Some people cope by turning to smoking, alcohol, drugs, avoidance; but all these do not address the underlying cause; and potentially cause more health issues.

Its so easy to say for someone to say ‘Don’t stress’. But what mechanisms/ tools do you have in place and implement that find helps for you?

What to do for stress?

Here are some ideas that I have found have helped myself and others:

Quick and Effective:

  • 'Stop and breathe'. We get so tied up with our daily chores/running around and forget to simply stop and take deep breaths to re-connect our body with our minds, and calm the nervous system. Stop, take 3 deep breaths holding for 3.

  • Emotional release- watch soppy movie, journal, venting to a trusted loved one

  • Make a little time for self- do your favourite things, bath end of day, foot spa, cuppa tea

  • Make a booking for a massage- get a relaxing or remedial massage to help knead those ‘knots’ out

  • Delegation of chores/ tasks

  • Spend time with the people who matter and make an effort as well

  • Spend time with animals/pets- petting dogs have been shown to have effects including immediately increasing happiness/decreasing stress levels

  • Smile; it tricks the brain into releasing endorphins; and it's infectious :) 

  • Laughter- again releases endorphins. Watch a comedy, join a laughing club, spend time with funny people

  • Being out in nature (believed to help increase mood levels, decrease anxiety and blood pressure). Beach walks, hiking, visiting parks

Not as quick, yet potentially very effective:

  • Writing- your happy list, your grateful lists, prioritisation lists, get ideas out of mind rather than regurgitating within the head

  • Do what makes us happy hence Happy list. Write a list of everything that makes you happy. The longer the list, the better. Aim to do something from it every day eg beach walk, listening to favourite comedian, being out in nature

  • Listen to the body- what is your body saying to you? Are you tired, do you have pains..

  • ‘Check in on self’ often. ‘Check in’ and see how you are feeling. Being aware of how you feel so as to be able to be more in control of our choices.

  • Practice graciousness- Be grateful for the awesome beauty of life and remember the ones who aren't so lucky/joyous. Do the 30day Gratitude challenge- write 3 things daily that you are grateful for, for 30 days. Be sure not to repeat. This allows us to see our lives from different perspectives and linked to improve self esteem and psychological wellbeing.

  • Acupuncture- Qualified acupuncturists can see patients who have symptoms of stress and pain disorder. Believed to emit your body’s own opioids and endorphins, this can counterbalance the effects of stress and anxiety.

For more long term benefits:

  • Change our perceptions Eg lowering expectations of self. Trying to cramming in all the work/ multi-task? - Remember there's only so much you can do humanly possible. Eg learning to say ‘no’ once in a while. Eg Learn to let go of control. Eg positive attitudes. Eg stop worrying about the future or past and focus on the NOW.

  • Goal setting- The importance of goal setting is that we can aim to have a drive and purpose. Set small and long term.

  • Do something that you feel is rewarding- eg donations, volunteering, paying it forward

  • Mindfulness /Meditation- the overwhelming evidence for its benefits are now being understood; with increased pain and stress resilience included,

  • Work or hobby that you are passionate about- something you love or are so passionate about that it doesn’t seem like work

  • Exercise 5x/week- release that built up tension. Half an hour of walking, yoga, gym, and/or outdoor activities

  • Address diet and sleep- ensure that these are adequate; quality and quantity. Both helps with aspects of healing and wellbeing

  • Seeking further support: Social (people with strong social networks are believed to have 50% less mortality rate), medical/counselling/mental health support (go to the professionals who are highly trained to be able to help), higher powers or religious support.

So what now…you’ve read and acknowledged some of the above tips; do you go on to read the next blog or go to do your next chore? Ask yourself if you want to make a change and why? What will that change mean for you? What will it mean if you do not make the change? So, perhaps start with selecting 2 tools from the quick, not so quick and long term benefits that you can implement, write them down and set that as your personal challenge to include in your daily life. Make the time to improve your wellbeing now :)

Or why not have a chat to our physiotherapist, acupuncturist, Yoga/meditation/Mindfulness, Massage or dietitian/nutritionist practitioner for these specific options

prospect mindfulness and meditation
prospect physio mindfulness and meditation

Resources:

Amnie, A. G. (2018) ‘Emerging themes in coping with lifetime stress and implication for stress management education.’, SAGE open medicine. England, 6, p. 2050312118782545. doi: 10.1177/2050312118782545.

Basso, J. C. et al. (2018) ‘Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators.’, Behavioural brain research. Netherlands, 356, pp. 208–220. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023.

Berkland, B. E. et al. (2017) ‘A Worksite Wellness Intervention: Improving Happiness, Life Satisfaction, and Gratitude in Health Care Workers.’, Mayo Clinic proceedings. Innovations, quality & outcomes. Netherlands, 1(3), pp. 203–210. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocpiqo.2017.09.002.

Graham-Engeland, J. E. et al. (2018) ‘Emotional State Can Affect Inflammatory Responses to Pain Among Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: Preliminary Findings.’, Psychological reports. United States, p. 33294118796655. doi: 10.1177/0033294118796655.

Gu, Q., Hou, J.-C. and Fang, X.-M. (2018) ‘Mindfulness Meditation for Primary Headache Pain: A Meta-Analysis.’, Chinese medical journal. China, 131(7), pp. 829–838. doi: 10.4103/0366-6999.228242.

Househam, A. M. et al. (2017) ‘The Effects of Stress and Meditation on the Immune System, Human Microbiota, and  Epigenetics.’, Advances in mind-body medicine. United States, 31(4), pp. 10–25.

Johnson, B. T. and Acabchuk, R. L. (2018) ‘What are the keys to a longer, happier life? Answers from five decades of health psychology research.’, Social science & medicine (1982). England, 196, pp. 218–226. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.11.001.

Magtibay, D. L. et al. (2017) ‘Decreasing Stress and Burnout in Nurses: Efficacy of Blended Learning With Stress Management and Resilience Training Program.’, The Journal of nursing administration. United States, 47(7–8), pp. 391–395. doi: 10.1097/NNA.0000000000000501.

Majeed, M. H., Ali, A. A. and Sudak, D. M. (2018) ‘Mindfulness-based interventions for chronic pain: Evidence and applications.’, Asian journal of psychiatry. Netherlands, 32, pp. 79–83. doi: 10.1016/j.ajp.2017.11.025.

Marsland, A. L. et al. (2017) ‘The effects of acute psychological stress on circulating and stimulated inflammatory markers: A systematic review and meta-analysis.’, Brain, behavior, and immunity. Netherlands, 64, pp. 208–219. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2017.01.011.

Mohammed, W. A., Pappous, A. and Sharma, D. (2018) ‘Effect of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in Increasing Pain Tolerance  and Improving the Mental Health of Injured Athletes.’, Frontiers in psychology. Switzerland, 9, p. 722. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00722.

Tolahunase, M. R. et al. (2018) ‘Yoga- and meditation-based lifestyle intervention increases neuroplasticity and reduces severity of major depressive disorder: A randomized controlled trial.’, Restorative neurology and neuroscience. Netherlands, 36(3), pp. 423–442. doi: 10.3233/RNN-170810.

Ward-Griffin, E. et al. (2018) ‘Petting away pre-exam stress: The effect of therapy dog sessions on student well-being.’, Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress. England, 34(3), pp. 468–473. doi: 10.1002/smi.2804.