Once you learn all the negatives that can come from prolonged periods of stress, it is easy to see the importance of learning to manage stress. While this can often seem like an impossible task, there are so many small changes you can make that will drastically improve the quality of your life. It’s all about finding what works best for you and is something you can add into your life that does not add stress. The last thing you want is for your stress reducing activities to add stress!
Below are my top 10 tips for how to manage stress and create a healthier balance in your life!
Exercise is so important for everyone, not just those with high levels of stress. When we exercise we release endorphins that improve our mood. They are essentially “happy hormones.” These endorphins help to reduce the negative impacts of stress while also improving confidence. It is also linked to better sleep!
Now the thought of exercise often makes people feel overwhelmed at first. Maybe one year you tried to be a runner and it didn’t work out, or you felt uncomfortable in the gym. The important thing to remember is that all activity is good activity and there’s no right or wrong movement to benefit stress relief. So try new things! Yoga, pilates, hiking, home workouts, group fitness classes, biking, swimming. The list is endless and there’s sure to be something that you’ll enjoy. Once you find that one thing you really love to do, it can often inspire you to give other exercise styles a chance.
Even those with a busy schedule can fit in movement! Maybe you work long days and can’t take 30-60 minutes at a time. Break up your sessions. Maybe do a few 10 minute walks throughout the day during your break times. Taking these breaks to move your body and get some sun are not only good for physical health, but it’s a well known fact that periodic breaks and getting vitamin D improve concentration and energy levels. So while it may seem like moving will make you more tired, it should actually leave you more alert and set you up for a more productive rest of the day!
2) Prioritize sleep (work home balance)
Making sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep a night is key! When the body sleeps that’s time for the body to recover from the activities from the day, so you can wake up feeling recharged for a successful day to come. When you don’t get enough sleep that impacts so many other things within the body and in return causes more stress. So set aside time to sleep. It can also be very important to set aside time before bed to relax and prepare the brain for sleep. This is very important for those who have difficulty sleeping.
Reduced sleep can lead to:
Poor focus, memory and productivity. If your brain is deprived it can’t function at 100%
Increased body weight. There has been a lot of research connecting poor sleep to higher body weight. People who prioritize sleep tend to have reduced hunger levels and make healthier food choices too.
Higher risk for disease and heart problems. Not getting those 7-9 hours actually leaves the body more susceptible to disease! Can also increase the risk of diseases like diabetes
Decreased performance. You’ll feel stronger and perform better in athletic activities with sleep.
Poor mental health and depression.
3) Dietary changes
Food is key to healthy functioning of the mind and body! A balanced diet allows the body to function at its best and can reduce extreme highs and lows. Nutritionists often recommend diet modifications that essentially is a “stress management diet.” With this “diet” you are swapping out some of the foods that can lead to major insulin spikes and crashes that will only worsen the symptoms of stress.
These dietary changes include switching simple carbs like cake and sugar for complex carbs. Complex carbs include foods like whole grains and oatmeal. Complex carbs take longer to digest and also contain fiber that not only is good for digestion, but also helps you to feel full for longer. With simple sugars, they burn quickly and often you’ll be hungry again very quickly. Adding in more foods like oranges, fish, nuts and spinach will provide your body with more nutrients for energy that will lead to a better ability to tackle tasks.
4) Recognize early signs and change your mindset or activity
Normally we can tell very quickly when a situation is causing us stress, but oftentimes we can’t just walk away from the situation for a while and calm down before approaching the tasks. In these cases 60 seconds is all you need to quickly reduce some tension and refocus the mind. When we become heightened to stress, the best way to break that cycle is to heighten another one of our senses. Touch is a great one for this! Opening the freezer door and feeling something cold, or putting a cold compress or even a hot compress on the skin for a short amount of time makes the brain change focus from the situation going on in your mind to the physical sensation. Your body wants to make sure you won’t freeze or burn yourself. Doing something this simple can help relax and refocus you. You’ll be able to head back to the task and have a clearer mind.
A few other things you can do is a quick 60 seconds of an exercise that gets your heart rate up like jumping jacks. Listing items in a category or counting things around you helps too. The key is to refocus the brain to something other than the stressful task so you can calm your mind.
5) Relaxing activities and hobbies
Finding activities you enjoy and can fit into your life should be a goal even if you don’t deal with chronic stress. There’s no end to the number of activities you could try to reduce stress! What’s important is setting up your schedule to allow for these activities. Maybe you need to schedule in advance 30 minute or hour long blocks of time to dedicate to doing things for yourself. When we take time for ourselves, not only is that a calming experience to take a break, but also the mental health benefits of putting ourselves first, can reduce the impact of the negatives in your life. Maybe a few nights a week you have a mini spa night. Personally, I have nightly baths to decompress. Maybe it’s getting outside or doing DIY projects. It’s whatever will bring you joy! You deserve to put yourself first!
6) Connect with others
Having a support system is always beneficial, but when we are overworked and overwhelmed, it can be hard to remember to stay in contact with those around you. This seclusion only leads you to feeling even more alone and can worsen the symptoms of stress. Keeping in touch with friends and family will help connect you to another aspect of your life and having people to talk through issues with, helps to remove some of the impacts of stress.
7) Breathing techniques
Stress can often lead to increased heart rate, increased respiration and sometimes panic attacks. It’s important to know how to immediately calm yourself when you are reaching those levels. This is where breathing techniques can do wonders. Things like guided meditation whether it be in person or online videos, can help teach you how to focus on breathing and relax your mind. There are tons of apps and youtube videos as well as books that can help guide you through this. Meditation can be done in increments as short as a few minutes and much longer.
If meditation isn’t your style, traditional breathing techniques can be helpful too. Simply taking large breaths, holding it and deeply releasing can help calm the body. Breathing into a paper bag or hands also can be really helpful for those who have limited time to collect themselves. Also, focus on how and where you are breathing and allow the mind to refocus to the breath. This quick change in mindset can do wonders!
8) Bond with pet(s)
It may sound silly but bonding with pets is incredibly helpful for those who are struggling to reduce their stress. Creating those loving relationships improves mood while giving you another purpose that is incredibly positive.
9) Limited alcohol and stimulants
Another tip is to reduce or eliminate alcohol. While we often use alcohol as a way to decompress, it’s not a great go-to option. You may feel more relaxed in the moment but alcohol actually alters the way the body functions. When we drink alcohol, extra cortisol is released in the body. High cortisol levels can lead to the body developing a new level of balance and perceiving stress differently. This means not only will the body be unable to process and manage stress to the best of its ability, but also cortisol is linked to metabolic disorders, weight gain and mental health issues like depression.
10) Seek medical help if needed
Keep in mind that while you can try out a lot of ways to reduce stress, if you still find yourself in a bad state, feeling depressed or constantly anxious, you should consult your doctor. Remember that long term stress has an extremely negative impact on the body and you don’t want to create an environment that could take years to recover from. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Remember that taking advantage of tools for success is a great display of self-love.
The important thing to remember at the end of the day is that no one should be stressed every day. We deserve to have a balance in our life that brings us happiness. Often we think that if we fail at something or don’t get that promotion, it’s because we aren’t working enough, and aren’t good enough. This negative mentality leads to overworking and creating a mindset that’s void of self love. Taking the necessary steps to balance your life and find peace, is the ultimate display of self love. So don’t forget to take care of yourself!
Until next week… and remember wellness is for all!