Did you know that 48% of Americans say that stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional lives? Or that 77% of people experience physical symptoms caused by stress? The next time you’re in a bind, keep cool with these 10 ways to manage stress.
By the Oxford English Dictionary, stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” A normal level of stress is good for you — it can improve your mental and physical focus and performance. That said, there is a fine line between positive and negative stress. Stress can come from a variety of factors as well, both environmental and otherwise, including jobs or careers, finances, relationships abuse or neglect, or even ethnic minority status.
Take a Break
It might seem difficult to step away from a big project with a looming deadline, an argument with a significant other or friend, or a growing bill, but it’s often for the best. Give yourself a break to recharge. Taking time for yourself can help you prevent and manage stress and you’ll have the opportunity to practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed or anxious. Studies show that short, frequent breaks actually improve productivity and levels of concentration. With a rejuvenated mind, you’ll be more alert and less stressed. Similarly, these breaks can alleviate musculoskeletal discomfort and eyestrain.
Taking a Step Back
Taking a step back will help you put things in perspective. Will this issue matter in one year? In five years? If you find that the answer is no, you’ll allow yourself to let go. There’s no sense in carrying the weight of that unnecessary baggage, especially if it’s causing you excessive stress and affecting your day to day life.
The hardest thing about taking a break is knowing when to do it. Listen to your body – it’ll give you plenty of cues. Stiff legs, strained eyes, yawning, an inability to focus. We ignore these signs more often than not because we’re afraid that stopping in the midst of a workday will make us less productive. You’ll accomplish more in the long run if you spend a few minutes away from whatever is stressing you out.
Did you know that people who live in places with more green (plants, flowers, grass, etc.) have lower levels of cortisol, aka the hormone that produces stress? Studies in both wilderness therapy and environmental psychology show that time outdoors relieves stress and restores attention. In fact, just looking at nature for as little as five minutes directly affects the brain’s ability to pay attention!
The physical effects of regular exercise are obvious. Just 30 minutes of daily activity can improve your physical condition, help you fight disease, and increase your cardiovascular health. Still, there are dozens of mental health benefits to regular exercise as well and one is increased levels of mental fitness.
Even just a 20-minute walk during the day can decrease drowsiness, heighten your senses, increase your appetite, encourage weight loss, and release endorphins that will help you manage your stress levels. Through regular exercise, studies show, you’ll enhance your cognitive function as a whole. Exercise can decrease underlying tension in your body, improve your self-esteem, and stabilize your mood. In clinical trials, exercise was even proven to successfully treat anxiety and depression!
Gradually introduce exercise into your daily routine. That’s the easiest way to make sure that you stick to it. In the beginning, it’ll be tough dragging yourself to the gym, but after a while, you’ll find you enjoy it or even really depend on it. Your metabolism, body, heart, and head will thank you!
Manage Your Time
Experience less stress by honing your time management skills. Minimize your workload with a prioritized to-do list. There’s no sense in trying to cram 60 hours worth of work into a 40-hour work week. If you start by reducing your workload, you’ll get through the day feeling far less stressed. And learn to say no. Don’t allow yourself to be bogged down by stressors because you feel guilty. You can’t do everything, so it’s important to take a step back sometimes and truly asses whether or not you can fit that task on your plate. Setting reasonable expectations and goals is a great way to reduce unwanted tension. By taking control of some parts of your life, you can greatly reduce your exposure to stressors.
Similarly, avoid procrastination. Doing things at the last minute and scrambling to catch up negatively affects your health.
Often times, eating healthy is simply sited as a way to lose weight or affect your overall physical health. In addition to that, a healthy diet can drastically affect your mental health. Stress can have negative effects on blood pressure and blood flow. There’s a direct correlation between the nutrients in healthy foods and blood flow, therefore, it’s safe to say that a healthy diet has an effect on brain health because of its effect on blood flow. Currently, researchers are studying the effects of digestive health on the brain and finding a strong link between the compound microbiome which is in fiber-rich foods like beans, vegetables, cereals, and yogurt.
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine
Caffeine in high doses can increase levels of anxiety. If you notice yourself feeling jittery or on edge, it might be time to cut back on the coffee or energy drinks. Things like nicotine and alcohol can seem like stress relievers, but in the long term can lead to both medical and psychological disorders.
Meditation can reduce your stress levels in the short term, but can serve as a life long stress management technique. Develop a mantra, take a deep calming breath, or perhaps try visualization or guided imagery. Mindfulness is also a great meditation technique because it encourages you to truly live in the moment. It engages all five senses and allows you to refocus for a moment on something else.
There are dozens of meditation apps available on your cellular device. Some of these offer guided meditations that can be easily accessed with just a tap. Calm and Headspace both offer free and paid sessions that are personalized to fit your needs. Only have ten minutes? There’s an option for that. Need help going to sleep? They’ve got a session for that too. If you don’t have time (or space) to download an app, a quick YouTube or Google search will lead you to dozens of guided meditations as well.
Meditation is personalized and doesn’t take long to master. The best part about it is that you can do it anywhere. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or under pressure, it’s easy to fly off the handle. Instead, take a deep breath and slip into a more relaxed headspace in as easy as five minutes.
Positive Self Talk
This goes along with having a mantra. Often times, the reason why we worry so much is that we are so focused on the future, on achieving our goals, on imagining or expecting the worst in every situation. Positive thinking is powerful. Rather than worrying about things, take a moment to envision the results that you want. Manifest that positivity and practice positive affirmations.
Get More Sleep
If you don’t sleep enough at night, your body has higher levels of cortisol, which means that you’ll wake up more stressed and find it harder to sleep the following night. It becomes a vicious cycle… Cortisol also peaks in the evening and afternoon, moments where you should feel more relaxed, which means it’s difficult to settle in. Make getting to sleep a priority. Set an alarm and stick to it. Studies show that instituting a fixed wake-up and sleep time helps reinforce your circadian rhythm and build your sleep drive. Going to bed and waking up at the same time helps to give your brain a routine, which in turn, can improve your quality of sleep.
Still finding it hard to tuck yourself in after a long stressful day? Consider adding exercise to your routine, take the time to practice some mindfulness, and avoid bringing work home or shut off all of your electronics about an hour before bed. Be aware that often times all of these 10 ways to manage stress directly affect one another!
Finally, the last of the 10 ways to manage stress is to find support. Whether you’re attending a therapy session of simply opening up to a friend, talk to someone you trust about what’s on your mind or what’s bothering you. Even if you aren’t seeking any specific advice, venting is a great way to distract you from your stress or release some of the built up tension.
Stress and You
Stress can cause dozens of different ailments in the long term, so it’s important to get a handle on it while it’s still manageable. By introducing some of these techniques into your daily routine, you can find ways to minimize your stress levels in moments that feel too overwhelming to handle. To begin, it’s important to figure out exactly what triggers your stress or anxiety so that you can find ways to adequately cope with your feelings – this is the best way to take control of your total wellbeing. And remember: stress management is not a one size fits all. Try each of these 10 ways to manage stress and give it time to settle. What works for one person, might not work for you and vice versa. Be patient and stress relief will come.