April is National Stress Awareness Month, so let’s check out some new strategies for combatting the stress in your life. Did you know that stress affects more than just your brain? Unchecked stress can lead to muscle tension, chronic pain, shortness of breath and a reduced immune response. It can also exacerbate respiratory disorders, heart disease and other ailments.

Ideally, you can relieve stress by taking care of the issue that is causing it. If you’re overscheduled, consider shedding a few commitments. If your job is a poor fit, take a deep breath and think about looking for a new position. But not every stress trigger can be eliminated, which is why you often must look at other activities that reduce the effects of stress and help you find some peace of mind. Let’s dig in.

How do activities affect your stress level?

Certain activities can play an important role in helping you slow down and manage your current stressors. Every person is different, and different stress levels call for different solutions. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider trying one of these outside-the-box stress management tools:

Ballroom dancing

Exercise in general is a great stress reliever. When you’re experiencing stressful situations, your body produces a hormone known as cortisol. This hormone causes your heart rate and blood pressure to increase, which can come in handy during stressful situations like being chased by a bear. However, most of us are lucky enough to avoid bears, and cortisol can build up in our bloodstreams and lead to problems like increased blood sugar, weight gain and digestive problems. Enter exercise. Exercise tells your brain to release chemicals called endorphins, which relieve pain and can help lower cortisol levels in your blood. It’s one of the best tools for combatting the physical effects of stress.

Sure, you could train for a marathon or jump on a bike, but why not consider ballroom dancing? Let the flowing motions of a waltz free your mind from today’s worries. Channel your extra energy into a passionate tango. As an added benefit, you’ll impress all your relatives at the next family wedding!

Summer concerts

Studies show that music can reduce the perception of psychological stress and increase coping abilities. Thank back to your happiest moments. You may find that music from that era triggers happy memories. Summer is the perfect time to carve out some time for outdoor summer concerts. Check out what’s happening locally, pack a picnic dinner or some fancy cheese and crackers, and treat yourself to an evening of stress relief!

Professional massage

You may believe that a professional massage is a frivolous form of indulgence. But a massage can have a profound effect on the stress levels in your body. Sure, it feels good, but did you know that a massage also helps loosen those tight muscles that have contracted over time? Massage triggers a relaxation response through the release of serotonin, a hormone that can stabilize your mood. It may even help your brain regulate its stress levels. Consider carving out part of your budget for an occasional massage, to give your body an edge against the ravages of stress.

Puzzles

Remember when the pandemic first struck, and almost everyone was inside working on jigsaw puzzles? It turns out that this boredom buster was also helping our bodies combat the effects of stress. Stress can make you feel like your brain is racing. Sitting down at a table of 500 pieces forces you to slow down and make deliberate choices. You also get an extra boost of positive reinforcement every time you find that elusive puzzle piece. If jigsaw puzzles aren’t your thing, consider crossword puzzles or number puzzles. While it’s fine to solve the problems on your phone or computer, why not go old-school and buy a puzzle book? You’ll also get to enjoy the delicious tactile sensation of pressing your pencil against the paper.

Swimming laps

Swimming is a low-impact sport that is a great option for anyone at any age. It’s also a useful tool for reducing stress. A study commissioner by the Speedo company reported that 74% of respondents said swimming helps release stress and tension. Swimming is an aerobic exercise, which means it forces your body to burn more oxygen and can have a beneficial effect on your heart. Hancock Health’s three convenient Hancock Wellness Center locations feature indoor aquatics for lap swimming in any type of weather.

Reconnect with an old friend

Life gets in the way. The people who used to be your best buddies have moved away and lost touch. You think of each other fondly, but you haven’t spoken in years. Maybe it’s time to reconnect. Reaching out is often a welcomed connection for all parties. Go online, search for your high school BFFs, and send them notes. Treat yourself to a conversation full of reminiscing over happy memories.

Are you struggling with mental health concerns related to stress? The Healthy365 Connection Center is a free and confidential service designed to connect Hancock County residents with local resources. Stop by the Healthy365 Connection Center at 120 W. McKenzie Road, Suite G, in Greenfield, or call us at 317-468-4231.