The dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” That sounds manageable, but when you’re experiencing it, it feels like much more than that. And in fact, stress can have both short-term and long-term effects on your well-being and health.
Since early in the last century, we’ve known that the stress of expecting or experiencing danger triggers a “fight or flight response” involving adrenaline and other hormones. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – some stressful experiences, like competing in a marathon or making an important sales pitch, are good for our physical and emotional well-being. These are examples of how stress is part of a healthy adaptation to our environment.
However, we also know that unrelieved stress is corrosive to our mental and physical health. Men also appear to deal with stress in different ways than women do. Men under stress tend to seek isolation while women reach out to their social networks. Research has shown that social isolation is associated with bad health and that losing a spouse through divorce or death is worse for men’s health than for women’s health. It’s possible that this tendency toward isolation helps to explain why men live an average of five fewer years than women do.
For men coping with stress, this means that it’s just as important to keep up your social networks as to work out at the gym. The good news is that chatting with other exercise enthusiasts may confer a health benefit that’s as important as the workout itself.
Some other tips for coping with daily stress:
- Don’t rely on caffeine, sugar and adrenaline to power through your day – they can all increase your stress. Eating enough protein and complex carbohydrates is vital to maintaining a healthy level of energy.
- We can't avoid all our stresses, but sometimes we can avoid or minimize a particular daily trigger. Pick just one to work on. Something as simple as choosing a new route to work can make a difference.
- Take breaks throughout your workday. At a minimum, stretch at your desk, but a quick walk outdoors is even better.
- Don’t just turn off the work email – schedule periods when you will be email-free. The very anticipation of reducing stress is actually part of stress reduction.
- Meeting friends for a drink contributes to a healthy social life, but alcohol itself contributes empty calories. Try drinking a glass of water before your beer or wine.
- Take a moment to breathe deeply at least once a day.
- Reading with young children is a great way to de-stress at the end of the day, with multiple benefits to both child and parent.
- Try something that has been recommended by sages throughout history: find time every day to count your blessings.