From getting stuck in traffic to giving a big presentation at work, stress takes shape in a variety of forms. When we’re stressed, our bodies release cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone. It’s thought that cortisol used to serve a specific purpose in early humans, warning our ancestors of impending danger, like attacks from predators. Absent the threat of predators, cortisol now kicks in whether we’re worried about our finances, running into a burning building to save someone or simply anxious about medical test results.
The effects of stress on the body aren’t just mental or emotional. Stress takes a toll on our bodies as well. You may have noticed that former presidents appear much older than they should once they leave office. In just four or eight years, the stress of the job has taken an obvious toll – grayer hair, a thinner physique and plenty of wrinkles. Today’s fast-paced, technology-dependent world has caused stress levels to shoot through the roof. If you’ve been feeling extra weight on your shoulders lately, then it’s time to take a break. Relaxing is good for your mind, soul and body.
All Work and No Play
Working through lunch might be necessary from time to time, but too much work can actually make you less productive. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking can have a negative effect on your productivity. Research shows that it’s more effective to work in focused bursts than on everything all at once. The human body is designed to rest. If you spend all of your wake time focused on work, you risk running yourself into the ground. You may be overworked if you:
- Eat more or less than you used to
- Gain or lose weight without trying
- Have trouble concentrating on specific tasks
- Feel irritable, depressed or overwhelmed
Stress can also affect how you age, accelerating the process both mentally and physically. You may gain wrinkles and lose your hair, or you might experience other, more serious side effects. One study linked working too much with an increase in the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, and even the thought of working too much – or anticipated stress – can affect the cells in your body, leading you to age faster.
How to Relax
Now that you know why it’s important to take a break from time to time, you may be wondering how to do it. The truth is that relaxing takes many forms. You may find peace sitting on your couch and listening to music, or you might enjoy taking up a new hobby, such as fishing or crocheting. What relaxes some people irritates others. While relaxation is unique to an individual, here are some general tips to keep in mind:
- Choose activities that interest and engage you.
- Physical activities, such as deep breathing or long walks, can be just as valuable as mental activities because your body will release beneficial hormones to combat stress.
- Try meditation or spiritual pursuits to enhance your relaxation techniques.
It’s important to distinguish between relaxing and being lazy. Relaxing is a purposeful activity while being lazy is a passive, inactive way to spend time. Taking time to take a break will renew your mind, refresh your spirit and reinvigorate your body so that you can accomplish more in the long run.