Stress & Anxiety

How to handle stress?A surprisingly effective and easy, fun way!

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: September 7, 2017
how to handle stress

how to handle stress

How to handle stress? Get ready for some fun!

How to handle stress? Here is a quick example. Stress is not something we invented in 2016 for goodness sakes; it has been with us since the time the cavemen fought the dinosaurs. JOKE! You know that cavemen and dinosaurs did not inhabit the planet at the same time. You’ll learn in a moment why I just said “JOKE” and why one of the best ways to relieve stress is just a great belly-laugh.

Meanwhile, back to s-t-r-e-s-s. We are stressed when we are threatened and faced with fight or flight. In modern times, we need stressful thoughts to focus our mind and to sharpen our wits. Stress used to help give us the edge we needed to survive. Large amounts of stress-hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) can enable us to do amazing things. This article teaches you what I find to be one of the best coping mechanisms in existance while going through the basics about stress. This means showing you the difference between good and bad stress. This means going through “risk factors” for having stress. It also means differentiating between acute and chronic stress. Let’s start with what happens with acute stress.

Perception of time:

Under the rush of life or death circumstances, our perception of time slows down. We become hyper-focused upon our goals, blocking out all. Life-saving (or so we think) sounds become more prominent and irrelevant sounds less so. Our reflexes sharpen, and our reaction time improves. Pain is diminished, and we gain super-human strength. When danger is imminent the question of how to handle stress doesn’t arise- we just “rise to the occasion.”

When it’s life or death, we can do amazing things -We over-ride our stress

There is a lot to be learned about how this process takes place in our bodies, and science has not yet figured out all the steps of this complex phenomenon. Scientists are restrained by ethics from recreating life or death circumstances for study. (Although I’ve witnessed some plastic surgery horrors that come close-KIDDING!) Anyway, throughout the years, many people have been witness to extraordinary acts by those in the heat of the moment. Now that I have you ready for some of these stories I’m going to switch gears for a moment. Look carefully at the sign below…

How to handle stress break:what is stress

Laughter and stress:

Before we start talking about rising to the occasion, I want to interject my thoughts and some research about laughter and stress. When I said would demonstrate to you how to handle stress and have fun doing it, laughter is exactly what I meant. Any objections? No? Good. Please read on. You’ll learn “cool stuff” and have a bunch of laughs.

There are countless studies supporting the notion that people with a positive perspective on life tend to be healthier and enjoy longer lives. For example, in one study, the tendency to always expect the worst was linked to a 25 percent higher risk of dying before the age of 65. (Now try NOT to picture a guy crossing the street and walking over and open man-hole cover). OK-onward.

Norman Cousins-one of my heroes:

Norman Cousins, known as the leader of the “happiness for health movement” was diagnosed with a life-threatening auto-immune disease upon which he based his journey. After being given a one in 500 chance of recovery, Cousins created his own laughter therapy program, which he claims was the key to his ultimate recovery.

Cousins went on to establish the Cousins Center for Psycho-neuro-immunology in Los Angeles, California, and his book, Anatomy of an Illness, was made into a TV movie. It’s actually pretty entertaining.

Why is “conventional thinking” still not convinced stress makes us sick?

“Conventional medicine” is astonishingly reluctant to admit that your emotional state has any major impact on your overall health and longevity. Why is this? Something that all of us innately know to be true? Well, not to be overly cynical but last time I checked happiness couldn’t be bottled and sold by Pharmaceutical companies. Nor can any natural stress relief.

Fortunately, fearless scientists are willing to risk their reputations to investigate how and why emotions, such as happiness, do of course affect your physical health.

What Happens to Stress-levels When You’re Happy and even Laughing?

how to relieve stress

In a well-known happiness study, participants answered questions about the frequency of certain emotional states, covering two categories of happiness known to psychologists as:

1) Hedonic well-being (characterized by happiness derived from pleasurable experiences).

2) Eudemonic well-being (characterized happiness comes from activities that bring you a greater sense of purpose).

Both happy states but different genetic expression:

Interestingly, while both are positive emotional states associated with happiness, the gene expressions they produced were not identical. Those whose sense of happiness was more eudemonic had more stress-proof genetic profiles. However both groups of people responded the same to laughter, which can either be hedonic (you are laughing at a joke) or eudemonic (you are sharing a joke and causing others to enjoy and laugh). In other words, laughter “works” for all types of stress.

Remember how it always looked like Jerry Seinfeld (always) and the rest of the Seinfeld cast (much of the time) were all suppressing laughter? Well, it turns out that, upon review of “floor-cuts” of tape, during read-throughs and take 1, 2, 3, 4-someone (or all of them) was/were laughing. What a great job that must have been. Can you imagine sitting at that cafeteria table with Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer? Visualize them and try not to laugh. By the way, Happy Festivus to you all.

Laughter naturally reduces stress and makes us feel happier:

What isn’t so well-known is that laughing actually increases total body blood flow. In a 2006 study, researchers compared the ability of blood to flow throughout the body during two movie screenings: a comedy and a drama. They discovered that the inner lining of the viewers’ blood vessels expanded approximately 15% during the comedy compared to a 47% decrease during a stressful drama. This allowed for greater blood flow throughout the body, which in turn minimizes circulatory stress and keeps organs healthy by supplying them more oxygen. But no, it’s not that simple. It’s a lot more fun. Fun during an article about how to handle stress? Precisely my big take-away point.

How to handle stress break:  ” I discovered I scream the same way whether I’m about to be devoured by a great white shark or if a piece of seaweed touches my foot.”-Unknown

How did that just make you feel? Laughter raises endorphins. Until now, scientists haven’t proven that just like exercise, laughing causes a release of feel-good endorphins.

More Specifically:

Endorphins are the body’s way of making you just plain feel better. These pain-relieving chemicals are created in response to exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food, love, sexual orgasm…and laughter!

In addition to giving us a “buzz,” these endorphins raise our ability to ignore pain. So, researchers have used the endorphins’ pain relief to determine if laughter causes an endorphin release. They first tested participants for their pain threshold, then exposed them to either a control or a laugh-inducing test, and then tested pain levels again.

How this was tested:

The tests included humorous videos and a live comedy show. Because laughter is such a social activity (it’s 30 times more likely to happen in a social context than when alone), the participants were tested both in groups and alone.

The lab-based pain tests included wrapping a participant’s arm in a frozen wine-cooling sleeve or a blood-pressure cuff. The pain tests were administered until the patient said they couldn’t take it anymore. At the live shows, the researchers tested pain by having participants squat against a wall until they collapsed. Oh, my…I know that sounds severe and not all too funny. However, you’re not allowed to torture subjects in the name of science so just bear with me here.

Across all tests, the participants’ ability to tolerate the pain tests went up measurably after laughing. On average, watching about 15 minutes of comedy in a group increased participant’s pain thresholds by 10+ percent. Participants tested alone showed slightly smaller increases in their pain threshold.

Why laughter releases endorphins

The researchers believe the long series of exhalations that accompany true laughter cause exhaustion of the abdominal muscles and, in turn, trigger endorphin release.

Increased blood flow isn’t the only other physical benefit of laughing. Laughter is also an easy way to boost your immune system with no effort.  It does this by increasing levels of interferon gamma-1b, a compound critical in the fight against infections.

How to handle stress break:

how to deal with stress

Rising to the Occasion-Now for the super-people-under- stress stories!

Sitting in traffic, Tom Boyle and his wife witnessed a gruesome sight. Sparks sprayed from beneath a car ahead of them as it dragged 18-year-old Kyle Holtrust and his bicycle, flush against the road ahead. After 20 to 30 feet, the driver finally came to a stop, and Tom Boyle sprang to action.

The bicyclist was pinned beneath the frame of his bike and a 3,000 lb. Camaro. Kyle was screaming “help,” pounding the side of the car with his free hand, in obvious extreme pain. Tom Boyle reached under the frame of the 3,000 lb. car and lifted it off of Kyle.

The driver of the car then pulled Kyle to safety. After an incredible 45 seconds of holding the car, Boyle put it gently back down. Tom Boyle is your average sized guy with a huge rush of cortisol and adrenaline that caused his super-human to manage stress

Wow! How did this happen?

When it’s life or death, we can do amazing things. Other stories similar to this one are all over the internet and proven to be true, too.

A mother named Maureen Lee used only her bare hands to throw a cougar off of her 3-year-old daughter. The cougar ran like the wind, undoubtedly scared of Maureen!

Angela Cavallo lifted a 1964 Chevrolet Impala off of her son after it fell off of the jacks and onto him. Angela held the car long enough for others to arrive and to put the car back on the jacks.

Unfortunately, chronic-stress can lead to all kinds of poor health outcomes. In a series of articles and a book-to-come in 2017, I cover all the possible effects of stress from stress and weight gain to how stress wrecks your looks and health. Then, of course, I go through all the ways to cope. So, if this article leaves you laughing but still hungry for more, there’s more, believe me, there’s more.

Yes indeed life is stressful, I know:

Life is indeed stressful, and we are designed to “deal with it” for the most part. However, we are designed for extreme-stress. In today’s modern world, extreme-stress rarely happens. The kind of stressors that we encounter today are usually more of the low-level, ongoing variety like relationship troubles, financial difficulties, and “idiot- bosses.” Our bodies are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic-stress. Constant stress can bring on a multitude of physical and psychological issues and even cut our lives short.

It’s true; stress can kill you:

The Japanese call this Karoshi, which means death from overwork. It is the stress from work that kills us, not the work itself. That is the stress and lack of sleep from overwork, which further adds to our stress. The old saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger,” may not hold true when it comes to chronic stress.

How to handle stress break: “Apparently I snore so loudly that it scares everyone in the car I’m driving.”-Unknown

Positive Aspects of Stress (First, the good news!) acute stress disorder

Stress can make you feel alive. It is the rush of stress hormones that give us thrills and chills when we are watching action or horror movies or going for a ride on a roller-coaster.

Our bodies also release stress hormones when we are watching or playing sports. Some amount of stress is good, healthy, and invigorating. It can make us feel alive and more aware of “the moment.”

Another positive about stress is its ability to act as a “motivator.” “I work best under pressure.” “I perform best under a deadline.” Is this familiar? The right amount of stress actually does sharpen our focus. The right amount of stress plus optimism improves athletic performance. Under the right circumstances, stress can be our friend.

Good vs. bad – Stress

The difference between good-stress and bad-stress is all about perception. Most people think of stress as something that happens to them, from external factors. They think of stress as a complete negative, “too much to deal with,” and that sort of thinking.

The idea of too much, too many, is a good model for real physical stress. Bridges and buildings are all built to withstand a certain amount of physical stress. When they are subjected to too much stress at once or too much stress over an extended period, the structures collapse.

Stress is all In Our Heads

Stress caused by negative emotions doesn’t need to affect the body adversely. All of our stressful thoughts pass through our minds before they impact our bodies. The way we think about stress either magnifies our stress or lowers it. Many of us think of our jobs as stressful, our boss as stressful, or things like lines or even traffic as stressful. Although some occupations are indeed more stressful than others, we can decrease the intensity of our stress by changing the way we think. Being stuck in traffic isn’t fun either, but we can all take a deep breath and listen to enjoyable music instead of “stressing out” about how much time we’re wasting.

What does Dr.Kim do?

I absolutely hate to wait for anything. I type so fast that if I let myself get annoyed, I’d be annoyed that my keyboard can’t keep up. But I recognize this in myself. I’m impatient. So, I always prepare for situations where my time will be wasted. I flip to email and social media screens when I’m waiting for a particularly long sentence to load. Traffic and standing in lines are an opportunity. This is what I do. Traffic is when I clean out my pocketbook, organize things in the car, and even take out the upholstery pad and do some cleaning!

When I’m done with that, I ALWAYS have things I need to read, and this applies to waiting in lines. I’m good about not texting or emailing while driving, so there are tons of emails and texts when the car is at a standstill or I’m in a line somewhere. This takes away the stress of “waiting.” I know this is not the cure-all blog, but I just thought of that “stuff” and wanted to “share.”

Some people just thrive under stressful conditions, while others do not. Usually, the difference is in perception, but it also helps when events are seen as being somewhat under their control. For many, powerlessness truly amplifies stress. You can decrease your stress-perception and also decrease your levels of anxiety when you get a real sense of control over your life.

The Fine Line Between Stimulating and Stressful:

coping with stress

Those who do well under stress also do not dwell on negative events.

As an example, doctors have stressful occupations.

The difference between a physician coping well with her stressful career lies in part with her ability to leave her career at the office and not take the stress home.

Doctors get used to taking “call” and those who just can’t tolerate it have the opportunity to switch to other specialties.

Other people don’t have this luxury and are stuck in unrewarding careers with “horrible bosses.” That takes a whole other set of coping skills, and I cover all of these things in other articles. To those who thrive in stressful jobs, their jobs are rarely all that stressful because they don’t perceive them to be that way. To them, their job is challenging, exciting, rewarding and so on.

There is a “right” kind of stress?

The right kind of stress is sorta “cool.” The good kind is that thrill we get from a roller-coaster ride, the rush we get from a good horror movie, or the exhilaration we get from watching a sports game. Even in these examples, the way we perceive the stress is the whole secret to coping with it. What does this for you? I get a “rush” at the top of a steep ski slope I’m about to zoom down. I also get a good feeling with a good “water-start” when a big gust of wind lifts up my big sail and carries me away.  Some people can take things to the extreme, though.

Take sports for instance. It’s possible to become too emotionally involved in sports, even as a spectator. Sports fans have a way of feeling both the triumphs and failures of their favorite teams. Taken too far, this can be unhealthy. I’m going to allow for the wearing of cheese on heads as “healthy”-O.K. with you?stress and anxiety

In one study, researchers tracked the health outcomes of soccer fans.

The Dutch fans of the European Cup Soccer game were devastated by “their loss.”

The Dutch fans risk of heart attack increased by 50% shortly following the game. (I know, can you believe this?)

How to handle stress break: As I watched the dog chasing his tail, I thought “Dogs are easily amused.” Then I realized I was watching the dog chase his tail.-Unknown

Apathy might be worse than stress!

Some stress is actually good for us, and without some – you get bored. The key to coping with it is to see hardships as challenges. See if you can view some stressful feelings as helpful because it mimics the biological changes induced by joy and courage. The trick is to change your perception of what’s stressful from a negative thing to a positive motivator.

Risk Factors for feeling overwhelmed by stress:

At some point in their lives, just about everyone will experience stressful events or situations which overwhelm their natural coping mechanisms. In one poll, 89% of respondents indicated that they had experienced serious stress in their lives. Some people are simply biologically prone to feeling stressed. Of course, there are also outside factors which influence stress-susceptibility as well.

Conditions More Likely To Cause Stress-Related Health Issues:

Acute anxiety accompanying a serious illness, such as cancer or a heart attack.

An accumulation of persistent stressful situations, particularly those that a person cannot easily control (For instance, a move, loss of job and illness all within six months is “too much”).

Persistent stressful feelings after a severe acute response to a traumatic event (such as an automobile accident or going to war or even being in an abusive relationship).

Factors Which Influence the Response to Stress:

Genetic factors: Some people have genetic factors which increase stress-symptoms and signs such as the innate production of more adrenaline or a more or less efficient relaxation response.

Early non-nurturing: People who were abused in childhood may have long-term abnormalities in the “cortisol-control” system.

Negative Personality traits: Certain people have personality traits that cause them to over-respond to stressful events. For example, addictive personalities may get stressed more easily and turn to dangerous behaviors such as smoking and heavy drinking.stress relief games

Positive Personality Traits: Being more outgoing and aware of the world may improve a person’s response to stress by lowering levels of stress-related inflammatory hormones.

The length and quality of stressors: The longer the duration and the more intense the stressors, the more harmful the effects will likely be.

Individuals who are at a Higher Risk for Stress Problems:

People who are targets of racial or sexual discrimination

People who live in cities

Less educated individuals

People having financial-stress, especially if caused by illness

Divorced or widowed individuals: Numerous studies indicate that unmarried people generally do not live as long as their married counterparts. Recent studies show that this holds a lot more true for men as “independent women” past childbearing years tend to have less stress when they are single!

How to handle stress break: A recent study has found that women who carry a little extra weight live longer than the men who mention it. -Anonymous

O.K., back to business…..

People who are isolated and lacking a Social Network are more stress-prone:

how do you handle stress

The lack of an established network of family and friends predisposes a person to stress disorders and stress-related health problems.

Older people who maintain active relationships with their adult children are often sheltered from the adverse health effects of chronic stress-inducing situations, such as low income.

People who remain happy and healthy despite many life stresses typically have very good social support networks.

Having a pet may help reduce medical problems that are aggravated by stress-symptoms, including heart disease and high blood pressure. Those of you who know me at all know that I’m a big get-a-pet fan.

This “who’s stressed” list also includes:

Older adults: As people age, achieving a relaxation response after a stressful event becomes more difficult. The elderly, too, are very often exposed to major stressors such as medical problems, the loss of a spouse and friends, a change in a living situation, and financial worries.

Working mothers: Regardless of whether they are married or single, working mothers face higher stress levels and possibly adverse health effects, most likely because they bear a greater and more diffuse work load than men or other women.

stress relieving games

Caregivers of Family Members: Studies show that caregivers of physically or mentally disabled family members are at risk for chronic stress.

Spouses who care for a disabled partner: They are particularly vulnerable to a range of stress-related health issues.

Caring for a spouse who has even minor disabilities can lead to severe stress. Caring for elderly parents which many of us are doing can be stressful as well, can’t it?

I always print off jokes for my 91 y/o dad to tell and so he and I get to laugh and then for a week, he gets to make others laugh. Try it.

Specific risk factors that put caregivers at higher risk for severe stress, or stress-related illnesses, include:

Having a low income.

Living alone with a patient.

Wives: Some studies suggest that wives experience significantly greater stress from caregiving than husbands.

Helping a highly dependent patient.

Having a difficult relationship with a patient.

Being a Health Professional Caregiver: Caregiving among health professionals is also a high-risk factor for stress. One study, for example, found that registered nurses with low job control, high job demands, and low work-related social support experienced very dramatic health declines, both physically and emotionally.

Anxiety: People who are less emotionally stable or who have high anxiety levels tend to experience specific events more stressfully than others.

 Work and Stress- This is a big source for many

ways you handle stress

Nearly half of American workers describe their jobs as very stressful, making job-related stress an important and preventable health hazard.

In a struggling economy, worry about job loss produces a tremendous amount of stress-symptoms.

Health care costs are considerably higher in workers who are stressed than in others who are not.

Several studies are now suggesting that job-related-stress is potentially as great a threat to health as smoking. Stressful thoughts impair concentration and can cause short term memory loss. It causes sleeplessness, and increases the risk for illness as well as being the leading cause of what people refer to as unexplained weight gain. It can interfere with sleep initiation due to “brain race” making you then get stressed about not getting enough sleep. In addition, it can make you look older. It is the cause of anger and irritability. It is also associated with depression. Not to worry, though, as both anxiety and depression can be treated with natural products rather than drugs.

Certain types of work stress are more harmful:

However, studies suggest the following job-related stressors may increase health risks, particularly in men:

Unrelenting and unreasonable performance demands

Having no control over decisions that affect one’s responsibilities (There’s that old loss of control thing again and again!)

Lack of job security

Wages not matching levels of responsibility

Spending too much time away from home and family

Night-shift work, long hours, or both

Lack of effective communication and conflict-resolution methods

How to handle stress break:games to relieve stress



Now, after reading this do you feel less stressed? Do you want to find Seinfeld re-runs or look up jokes on the internet? Do you have a bit of a better understanding of your “situation?”

Further, do you feel that you want to get going and read the rest of my stress-management articles? Just go to the blog search bar in this article or the general blog and put in the word “stress” and you’ll see your choices.

You SHOULD laugh out loud at least three times daily. If you find a “really good one,” how about sharing it with me? I LOVE good jokes. So let me ask you, do you feel better after reading this? Did laughing help?

O.K. One last how to handle stress break:

ways to handle stress



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