Healthy Habits for Dealing with Stress
“Stress.” Just the word alone is enough to make you tense up. Most of us naturally associate stress with negative feelings and emotions. It’s no secret that as a culture, we are experiencing higher levels of stress than in previous years or generations. It is estimated that almost fifty percent of us experience chronic stress, or stress on a regular basis, and that the overall level of stress we feel is higher than it was just five years ago. This type of chronic stress can have serious consequences for your health. Stress, however, is a normal and unavoidable part of life. Finding ways of coping with the stress in your life can help you keep your stress level in check before it has the opportunity to wreak havoc on your life and your health.
The thing about stress that often gets overlooked is that not all stress is bad. Stress comes in periods of excitement and change just as much as it comes from negative experiences. The stress you feel when planning your wedding or preparing for an important job interview is normal and can actually be beneficial. The problem is that when our good and bad types of stress are out of balance, we are left feeling drained of our energy and health. Should you try to avoid stress at all costs? Absolutely not. When comparing people who attempt to avoid all stress with people who have healthy methods of dealing with stress, those with the effective coping mechanisms experience better physical and emotional health, even during periods of increased stressful stimuli. What this means is that it is more important to learn how to cope with, handle and reduce the stress in your life than it is to spending your energy trying to avoid it altogether. What you need is an arsenal of healthy techniques for dealing with the stress in your life, regardless of its source.
Acknowledge the Source of Your Stress
Most of us tend to feel stress when a situation is either out of our control, against our will or lacking any meaning on a personal level. More times than you might want to admit, the stress that you feel is a result of your own unwillingness to change the situation or change how you feel about it. Stress is often formed from emotional clutter that builds up and steals your energy resources. Taking a step back and identifying the source of your stressful feelings is an important first step.
Learn to Say No
One of the biggest causes of stress is an overburdened schedule. Taking on too much is a sure way to increase your stress load. We live in a culture where it seems like we always need to be doing more. We feel the need to be working harder, getting better grades, making more money, helping others or becoming a more perfect version of ourselves. At some point you need to stop and recognize your own limits. Decide what is important and say no to anything that violates your sense of peacefulness. Stop worrying about offending someone or being perceived as not good enough if you decide to politely say no. You might be surprised at how quickly stress evaporates when you learn to be an advocate for protecting the value of your own time and energy.
Share your burden with a friend. No one can dispute the therapeutic effect of sharing your burden with a friend or family member who is a great listener and genuinely cares about you. One of the best reasons to share what you are feeling is to gain a different, trusted perspective. Sometimes all you need is to let it all out, and then listen to someone else’s perspective in order to see things more clearly. If you don’t feel you can confide in a friend or family member, consider speaking with a professional counselor who can fill this role.
Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a hot topic lately, and with good reason. Mindfulness is simply the act of clearing out the mental clutter and being completely present in the moment. Mindfulness helps you ground yourself and learn to appreciate the beauty and blessings of this very moment. For example, you might be dealing with a financial crisis. It is easy, and natural, to allow your thoughts to roam to the worst case scenario, which of course is going to increase the amount of stress you are feeling. Mindfulness helps you stop giving energy to the future and focus it on the here and now where you have the ability to make positive changes that affect the future. Clearing stress from your mind frees up a lot of creative energy and helps you think in a clearer, more rational manner. You can often find the solutions to your problems when you focus on the moment instead of outcomes that have not yet happened. By practicing mindfulness just ten to fifteen minutes per day, you will also be better able to deal with daily stressors and even help fight off certain stress-related diseases.
Daily Rituals to Relieve Stress from Your Body and Mind
Sometimes stress is just unavoidable and comes from so many sources that it is impossible to eliminate or address all of them. There is still plenty that you can do on a daily basis that will help to lighten the load and allow you to better able to cope with these daily stressors as they present themselves. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the things that you can do to relieve stress involve taking care of yourself and surrendering to a little pampering every now and then.
- Schedule “Me Time.” They say that you can’t pour from an empty cup, yet so many of us let our cup run dry as we thinly spread out the last drops that we have to give.
- Have a regular routine. This is probably the most boring of stress busting techniques that you will ever hear, but the truth is that having a regular routine helps to eliminate stress that is caused by chaos and lack of control. Is your morning always hectic because you wake up too late and don’t know what to have for breakfast? Do you feel like your finances are out of control because you can’t seem to remember when your bills are due? Do the kids drive you crazy during their summer break (kids thrive on routine too!)? All of these stressful situations can be cured with a commitment to a regular routine.
- Practice daily gratitude. This doesn’t need to be a time consuming routine. Keep a notebook or electronic journal next to your bed and make a habit of starting your day by jotting down three to five things you have to be grateful for. They don’t even need to be complete sentences -- no one is going to be checking your grammar!
- Laugh and love. There are no better stress busters than the ability to laugh and share affection. Try to surround yourself with people who you truly enjoy and limit time with acquaintances who are negative. Bring a daily smile to your face by subscribing to your favorite comics’ tweets, reading uplifting stories or sharing amusing stories and anecdotes with friends and coworkers. You’ll feel less stressed if you make an effort to look at the world around you from a perspective that is filled with love and humor rather than fear or other negative emotions.
- Put down your phone. Being constantly plugged can mean being constantly in touch with stressful news or other people’s problems. Even happy news and updates can be a little overwhelming at times. (No one’s life is as perfect as their Instagram feed makes it look, so don’t compare.) Unplug for a while, put down the phone and focus on the good in the moment.
- Be prepared. Many times the cause of stress is simply not knowing what to expect or not being prepared for all of the possible outcomes. Sit down and look at your situation rationally. Have a friend do this with you if you are not feeling particularly objective. Write out the entire possible outcomes figure out how to be prepared for each one. Chances are that being prepared will not be nearly as difficult as you think it will be once you are able to clear your thoughts and get rid of all that mental clutter that stress provokes.
- Dance it off. Exercise is definitely a great stress reduction tool, but what you might really need to bust yourself out of your stress bubble is some high energy dancing. Go out with some friends or dance alone in the comfort of your own home. Do your best footwork or make it crazy and silly. Move your body, have fun and let the stress go!
- Give compliments. If you really want to feel better about your life, and feel less stress in the process, then make a point of seeing the beauty in others. Make a habit to try to give at least three compliments a day. One to someone you love, one to someone who is a coworker or acquaintance and one to a complete stranger.
- Go on a mini adventure. Maybe what you need to bust your stress rut is to just get out, have some fun and do something different. A change of scenery is a great way to refresh your body and mind. Become a tourist in your own town for the day, try something new that has been calling you, or plan a brief weekend getaway.
Long term Healthy Habits for Healthy Stress
Managing stress over the long term requires more than a quick fix. Here are few healthy habits to work on to keep stress at bay.
- Exercise regularly, at least three times a week
- Go for a brisk walk or run when you are feeling extra stressed.
- Eliminate or cut down on caffeine and alcohol which can exaggerate stressful feelings and emotions.
- If you don’t have them already, work on developing good sleep habits. You tend to feel stress more easily and more intensely when you are tired and sleep deprived.
- Watch what you eat. Avoid processed foods, sugar, salt and saturated fats. Choose foods that are as natural as possible and nourishing to your body.
- Take extra good care of your skin. One of the first places stress is going to show is on your skin, which is likely to make you feel even worse. Make taking care of your skin a priority.
- Get some vitamin D. What we often call the sunshine vitamin is also the feel good vitamin. Go outside and get some natural vitamin D, just don’t forget your sunscreen. If you live in a climate that is forever clouded over in grey, try taking a vitamin D supplement for a stress busting boost.
Stress is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to control your life or your health. The beauty of learning how to cope with your stress is that as these suggestions become part of your everyday life, you might begin to realize that stress just isn’t as attracted to you as it once was. By practicing healthy stress busting habits you can let stress know who’s really in control.