We often have physical responses to stress that occur unconsciously and go unnoticed. Like we take our temperature to determine the status of our body at that moment, we can also perform quick checks of these unconscious responses to measure how our body is responding to our present or recent mental activities.
Many studies now confirm that it doesn’t take long when we are stressed to lower our immunity and resistance to disease. You never know where or when you will encounter that virus or bacteria that could give you days of misery as an infection. Like the temperature and fuel gauges on our car’s dashboard, these measures below can help make sure our awesome body is not running hot or out of gas.
Below are a few ways to check your stress level, and identify ways to reduce stress.
1. Are you clenching your teeth?
During the day, intermittently check to see if you are clenching, biting down or grinding your teeth. Does opening your mouth wide seems to stretch out muscles you have been keeping contracted? Has your spouse heard you grinding your teeth during sleep? Have you ever woken in the night or early morning with ear pain?
Ear pain or fullness, headaches in the temples, and very mild hearing loss are often the signs of this condition, that is worsened or entirely due to stress. It is also known as TMJ, Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. It can also irritate your jawbone, and the side of your neck near and under your jaw.
To combat these symptoms, and stress, let your mouth fall open and your teeth remain apart while at rest or at work. Stretch your jaw open widely, by placing two to three knuckles between your upper and lower front teeth. Leave small post-it notes in places you spend time, such as your workstation, kitchen, and both bathroom and rearview mirrors that say. “Am I clenching?”
2. Are my shoulder muscles tensed?
Check to make sure you are not keeping the muscles of your upper back and neck tensed. Drop your shoulders as close to the floor as possible right now. Did they go down very much? Where you keeping them raised?
This is another common response to stress that requires a muscle from the back of your head to your upper back to remain tensed. This can create neck and upper back pain and headaches that can run from the back of your head all the way to your forehead. Roll, raise and lower your shoulders during the day to make sure you are not tense.
3. Is my forehead wrinkled?
Check with your fingertip, or by a quick glance in the mirror, to make sure the skin of your forehead is not wrinkled. In another response to stress, we often unconsciously hold our eyebrows in a raised position, or push our eyebrows together as we focus our attention on a task.
This sustained position requires small muscles in the forehead to remain contracted. With time, muscle fatigue will lead to a headache. Remember to check, or ask a friendly colleague to remind you if they see you doing this.
4. Am I breath holding?
Tune in to your Breathing. A common response to personal stress is to hold your breath, or breathe shallow. This type of breathing, like the other stress responses, is usually an unconscious event. Make a reminder to pay attention to your breathing when at work, during busy times at home, while driving in traffic or during any other task or situation that you have identified as stressful.
You will likely be surprised at what you discover. Slow deep breathing has been shown to have many therapeutic benefits. It can lower blood pressure, heart rate, improve lung function and energy level, and directly reduce stress. Try slow deep breathing, you will feel the benefits.
5. What is my pulse?
Monitor your heart rate. When our body is pushed, especially physically, our heart must increase the times it beats every minute in order to help our body keep up with the higher energy demands. Although mental stress is not typically considered something that raises our heart rate, it can.
By applying any of the many available stress reduction techniques, you will notice your ability to lower your heart rate. This is also known as biofeedback. This will result in less energy consumption and a sense of feeling better.
Developing the ability to observe and recognize the reactions of your body and mind to stress is a major step toward healthy living.
How to Make a Difference in Your Life: Print this short checklist below, and post it for a few months in a place, such as work, in the kitchen, or other places you spend significant time. See how your body is responding to your lifestyle!
Our rhythmic nature and responsive body (see Our Rhythmic Nature) allows an opportunity for us to achieve great results quickly using specific techniques. Because we are comforted with routines, if we establish a new health oriented routine, and maintain it for a short period of time, we will not only feel the results quickly, but will get used to the routine and be comfortable.