By Cristian B. Skinner
For many people in Greenbrier County, 2016 was a stressful year.
In a normal year, work or trouble finding work, family, illness and death can bring worry into our lives. This past year, though, there was also loss from the flood. Even for those who were safe from the flood, many people knew someone who lost their job, their car, their home, or even a loved one.
The stress that we feel is not something we like to make a big deal about, but whether or not we admit it, it’s still there. Science shows that stress is our bodies’ natural response when bad or unexpected things happen. Our bodies produce Cortisol and other chemicals to help us survive when times are tough. The stress responses help us to survive when we’re starving and to fight when we’re threatened, but in modern society they also make us gain weight and act in ways we regret.
According to a study produced by O’Hare, Sherrer, and Shen in 2006, the number of men reacting to major life stress is the same that we see in women, even though the behaviors are a little different. Stress causes us to feel bad. We sometimes say and do things that hurt ourselves or those around us. Whether we smoke or drink more to feel better, or even try illegal drugs, none of these things relieve the stress in the long run.
So, what can we do?
There are many ways to lower stress, and just like stress can build up over time, most of the ways to heal stress work – day by day, building us back a little at a time. You may have heard the word “mindfulness.” It sounds new age, but it really is just a word for what we were taught to do as children: sit still, breathe, think, or pray. It can be as easy as sitting still for two minutes and taking some healthy breaths. You can try the 1, 1, 2 breathing exercise. If you take a breath in for a four-count, hold it for the same four-count and then let your breath out to a count of eight or about twice as long as you took to take the breath in. Do that a few times and you should feel calmer.
In a similar way, some people report that prayer can also reduce the symptoms related to stress. Prayers that focus on positive things, important things and peaceful things rather than a list of all of your troubles can help the most. When you are doing a breathing exercise or praying it is a good idea to feel the seat or the ground underneath you. It reminds us we are alive.
You can also go online and find religious or non-religious mindfulness information, but if you try these things and you are still experiencing stress, remember, you are not alone. Many people every day feel like they are overwhelmed and that they can’t get out of the situation they are in. That’s a good time to ask for help. Most people wait too long before asking for help. We are good at helping others but we are stubborn when it comes to asking for help ourselves. Think about the people around you. Your friends, your family, your house of worship, or even someone you haven’t met at a counseling center. You can also talk to your family doctor who can help in these situations. Remember, we’re all in this together. We all help others sometimes and other times need help ourselves.