BY JILLIAN HALL

Stress has a bad reputation. Numerous studies have revealed its negative effects on our health and emotional well-being. But did you know that God gave us stress for a reason? He did! Stress saved our ancestors from threats and predators by triggering life-saving responses. It allowed their bodies to turn off non-essential functions during fight-or-flight situations.

But we no longer run from predators on a regular basis. Instead, we live in a world that brings us stress in new ways. It still causes the same bodily reactions, but its relentlessness is damaging, rather than protective.

Luckily, God also gave us ways to combat these negative effects. Try these unexpected stress-relieving activities.

Smile more. You probably thought that smiling was a reflection of happiness. But studies show that the simple act of smiling (no matter how you feel) can boost your mood in stressful situations.

Pet your animals. Just 15 minutes spent petting your dog releases feel-good hormones (like serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin). It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, according to a University of Missouri-Columbia study. It can even lower blood pressure, aid in heart disease recovery, and improve self-esteem.

Praise the Lord. “For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy” (Psalm 63:7). Taking time for gratitude has numerous health benefits, but singing praises to God may amplify that effect. According to some studies, an organ in the inner ear may be connected to the brain region that registers pleasure. So, sing your stress away.

Make memories. Research has proven that experiences make us happier than possessions. Therefore, invest in meaningful life experiences. You’ll not only have happy memories, you’ll also feel less pressure to acquire “stuff.”

Connect with others. God created us for relationships and gave us communities to manage life’s challenges. He knew it wasn’t good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Studies have even shown that those with strong social ties live longer, healthier lives.

Keep a journal. Writing can help you process stressful events and reduce your anxiety. Try jotting down a few thoughts each day. No editing. Don’t over-think it. It’s the action (not the content) that matters.

Take deep breaths. Has anyone ever told you to “take a deep breath” when you were upset? According to the American Institute of Stress, taking deep breaths for 20 to 30 minutes each day can calm your body’s stress reactions. Focusing on breathing deeply may also have a calming effect during stressful situations.  c

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