It has been said that stress is America's #1 health problem. The stress of life, work, and relationships can take its toll on your health if left unmanaged. Studies have shown that high stress can lead to an array of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, depression, insomnia, headaches, and muscle aches, among other conditions. It can also play an aggravating role on preexisting conditions. Chronic stress weakens the immune system, making one more susceptible to illness. While stress may be considered an inevitable part of life, you can combat its affects by learning how to deal with it and create balance in your life. Manage your stress, don't let it manage you!
Here are seven ways to manage everyday stress:
Figure out what is causing your stress. Are the demands of your job overwhelming you? Are you worried about finances? Whatever the root may be, take a moment to sit down and identify the issue. If you know what the problem is, you are better equipped to find a way to manage it.
Get it out there! Don't internalize your stresses. Bottling up your emotions will only cause you more stress. Talk about your problems, whether you discuss them with your spouse, a close friend, or a therapist. It's okay to ask for help. Or, keep a journal. At the end of the day, writing out your thoughts may help you release the stresses of your day and give you a new perspective. You can also use this as a way to keep track of your behavior over time and pinpoint your triggers.
Manage choices. Think through what you say "yes" to and don't be afraid to say "no." Don't feel obligated to take on extra tasks. You can't be all things to all people. Set your priorities and know your limits. It's okay to say "no." Establish healthy boundaries for yourself and honor those boundaries.
Get sleep and adequate rest. Sleep deprivation is not only a sign of stress, but it can also lead to increased stress and chronic illness. Recharge your batteries! Aim to get between 6-8 hours of sleep each night, and try to maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Stay away from screens before bedtime as well; aim to put devices away at least one hour before bedtime to give your nervous system the chance to wind down. Your body and mind will greatly appreciate it, and you'll notice the difference in your ability to manage and reduce stress. Our society doesn't reward rest the way it does "doing" and "busy." Rest, in in many ways, can seem revolutionary. And, rest isn't just about catching those ZZZs. Take a break away from screens, cozy up and read a book, spend a day schedule-free, or whatever helps you feel more at ease. If you notice you have a hard time falling asleep, here are some Ayurveda-inspired tips for your evening routine.
Exercise. Exercise is a great outlet for frustrations and it's also good for you! Research has shown that exercise increases your endorphins, your body's feel-good chemicals, and decreases the body's stress-related hormones, like cortisol. At the end of a long day, go for a run or take part in an aerobics class. You will be surprised at how much better you'll feel once you get your body moving. Exercise can also help your body build immunity, which often decreases when stress levels are high. Simply going for a 30 minute walk each day can do wonders for your mood. As always, please consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
Breathe. Take time for yourself. Whether you dedicate 5-20 minutes each day to meditate or reflect, or practice yoga, it's important to take time to breathe. When stressed, one often takes shallow breaths, which impacts the blood circulation throughout the body. Deep breathing helps to massage and revitalize organs. The breath can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the relaxation response in the body. When we're in a stress response (sympathetic nervous system), we can experience "fight, flight, or freeze" as if we are being chased down by a tiger when in reality we are worried about a work deadline. If you find yourself in a high-stress situation, stop and take ten deep breaths to help balance yourself and maintain composure.
Change your outlook. Learn to accept the things you cannot change, and look at things differently. Simply changing your attitude and outlook can have a great impact on how you handle stress (yes, I get it, this can seem easier said than done at times!). One of my favorite practices when I feel stressed is to incorporate a gratitude practice into my day, whether upon first waking or just before bedtime. Take a few minutes and list 3-5 things you're grateful for. This simple practice can help shift your mindset and perhaps serve as a gentle reminder of what truly matters.
With these simple tips, you're on your way to cutting stress and realizing a more energized, happy you. If you try or currently practice any of the above, share your experience. What are some of your other go-to ways to manage and reduce stress?