I hear it all the time from friends and family (and even out of my own mouth), “I’m so stressed out.” It is a fact that Americans lives are more stressful than ever. Most of us juggle jobs that eat away at our free time, family obligations that often include multiple generations, while dealing with a non-stop barrage of information and media. According to a recent American Psychiatric Association poll almost 40% of us are more anxious now than one year ago. The report went on to say that safety, health, and finances are the top sources of anxiety.
While there is some truth to the idea that some stress can be a motivating influence, the type of stress to beware is chronic stress. According to Everyday Health’s United States of Stress Special Report, chronic stress is what leads to poor sleeping, packing on pounds, and never-ending colds and illnesses. Prolonged stress is toxic to all aspects of human experience from physical to emotional and it can certainly lead to issues that can shorten or lessen the quality of life.
And while it may be impossible for most of us to eliminate stress it is important to find healthy ways to relieve it.
Take a walk –Grab the dog, a friend, put on ear buds, or simply enjoy the solitude—one of the easiest ways to calm your body and spirit is walking. It boosts endorphins and decreases the stress level cortisol.
Regular exercise – You have heard it over and over, but are you listening? Exercise has the potential to significantly improve your life. It boosts endorphins, lowers blood pressure, helps burn off excess weight, and more. So find something you enjoy, and do it! Maybe your tastes run toward a social game of tennis or basketball? Perhaps you can try yoga or tai chi? Or simply go for a bike ride. There are endless options.
Keep a journal—Sometimes the gears in our head churning away cause immense stress. One way to keep the stress monster contained is to air out the worry, and journaling is one way to accomplish just that.
Get enough sleep—This is another no brainer and SO HARD for so many of us. Sleep is the key to good health and is not something to brush off. Aim for eight hours a night, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and keep to a regular schedule—even on the weekends.
Get some fresh air—A quick outdoor break is an excellent mood booster—especially If you are cooped up all day. We are lucky here in New Mexico that most days (even in winter) give us a chance to feel the sun on our face!
Live, love, laugh—There really is scientific evidence that laughter is the best medicine. The Mayo Clinic says that it has short-term benefits like providing your body with oxygen-rich air and aiding in muscle relaxation. But also long-terms gains such as improving your immune system. So call up your wittiest friend, put on Comedy Central, hey even watch a good kitty YouTube video. Whatever helps you produce a good belly laugh.
Pet a pet—If you don’t have a furry friend, this might be a great time to adopt! There is growing evidence that interacting with animals decreases cortisol levels and increases the positive hormone oxytocin. The American Health Association (AHA) released a scientific statement associating pet ownership with reduced health disease risk factors and greater longevity. Volunteering at your local animal shelter is another great way to get in your animal cuddle time.
Escape to the movies and books—Immersing yourself in a good book or movie has positive benefits such as calming your mind/body (probably not a slasher movie, though), and diffusing any stressors that are front-and-center. Music too!
Find stillness—The Chopra Center advises that you find stillness every day, perhaps through meditation, to counteract stress and your brain’s bias to hold onto negativity.
Create art—This is another ideal way to find stillness through a creative process. In much the same way as meditation, “art as therapy” has the ability to create calmness and a sense of well being.
Do a good deed—It feels good to help others and boosts your endorphins. Maybe help an elderly neighbor with yard work, babysit your friend’s newborn, or volunteer at a food shelter.
Breathe deeply—When you feel overwhelmed or plain rotten, deep breathing is a simple, de-stressing tool that can help. Every yoga practice has the pranayama or “life force” at its core, which is getting in touch with your body and breath. It can slow down your nervous system and lower blood pressure, which in turn calms you down.
Unplug—It is a good idea to literally unplug at least for ten minutes daily (an hour would be better). Turn off all devices and the TV and clear your life of every toxic ping and tweet. Keep devices away from the dinner table and silence your phone in the evening before bedtime. (At our house, Sundays are device free days for everyone.)
Create cushions—There are times when you know the stress-o-meter is going to rise, so try to create conditions to avoid that circumstance. For instance, give yourself enough time to get to class, work, an important meeting, etc. Say “no” to non-mandatory requests if you know it will lead to a time crunch (like being asked to bake 10 dozen cookies at ten o’clock at night for the next day).
Eat well—Yes that pint of Ben & Jerry’s is calling, but what might make you feel better is a well-rounded meal with lots of greens and a small amount of protein. Take the time to create shopping lists and menus that are heart healthy, colorful, and easy to make.
Take a vacation—Maybe you are fortunate enough to have the time and cash to escape to the tropics for 10 days each year. But if not, even a staycation is an important break from work. Use your vacation days! It is important to recharge and get out of the everyday routine.
Socialize—Make an effort to keep your social circle intact. Social interactions are shown provide stress relief and give you a sense of belonging and purpose. How about a girls’ night out or a guys’ poker night? Maybe plan a pot luck dinner at your house—a great way to minimize the work load.
Practice gratitude—There is power in being grateful. Take a moment each day to focus on what positive things, people, etc. you have in your life.
Make a change—There are times in your life when throwing in the towel is the best decision. If a certain situation, relationship, etc. is causing undue harm and stress, the best option is to make a change and avoid the source of tension.
Create a bedtime routine: Design an evening routine to promote more restful sleep and keep the next morning stress-free. Here are my tricks:
- Create a “to do” list for tomorrow.
- Silence all phones.
- Put phone, keys, wallet, etc. together for the next day—pick out an outfit, too!
- Make three positive affirmations to end the day on a high note.
- Put a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow right before bed; it encourages your brain to relax.