Stress. It’s the most pervasive and persistent phenomenon we experience in life. While not all sources of stress are negative, chronic stressors tax our personal health and well-being and ultimately reduce enjoyment and peace. The constant presence of negative stress may eventually result in a significant decline in personal health.
It’s not possible to control everything related to what we experience or how we experience it. We can, however, employ simple stress management techniques and develop necessary skills that will not only help us face the stress beast but tame it as well. Apply these seven stress-busting techniques for better living.
It’s no secret that physical activity naturally reduces stress and increases the release of the “feel good” hormones. Physical movement doesn’t always need to be structured exercise inside of a gym or studio. Instead, schedule time to be active. This can be a brisk walk, a set of body-weight exercises you can complete in 10 minutes in your office or living room, a yoga session or a light jog with a friend. Activity is only limited by the time you set aside for it. Further, active time can be as short as climbing a few flights of stairs and still elicit positive stress-reducing benefits.
Allow Yourself to Say, “No, thank you.”
The inability to say “no” or decline a task you don’t have time for is a common challenge for many. Consequently, this leads to increased levels of stress and anxiety. It is O.K. to say “No, thank you” or “I would love to help at a later date, but thank you for thinking of me.” One of the hurdles many of us face is neglecting to prioritize our own needs because we are busy attending to the needs of others (friends, family, work, extracurricular events, groups, etc.). Reevaluate the to-do list and organize the critically important aspects at the top and leave room for “you time.”
Set a Daily Affirmation
The first thing many do when the alarm goes off is to launch quickly into the daily process of getting ready for the day; this is a habitual and sometimes mindless ritual. Modify this recurring ritual to include a daily affirmation to guide your busy day. Simple phrases such as “I am grounded,” “I am centered” or “I am strong” can serve as a mindful compass that teaches us to challenge negative thoughts or unproductive thought patterns. Post daily affirmations on social media, whisper them to yourself, put them on a post-it-note in your office or add them as a note in your phone. Keep them close by as a reminder of your value and purpose.
Though we think of it as rest, sleep is actually an active process. This is when the body works to repair, restore and rejuvenate the various systems of the body. It’s easy to believe one can run on six or fewer hours of sleep, but the body (and mind) vehemently disagree. A well-rested individual is more capable of combatting stress than an unrested individual. A lack of restorative sleep increases stress levels. To improve your sleep, start by creating a relaxing bed-time routine (lights dimmed and screens and digital devices set aside). Commit to going to bed and rising at consistent times and avoid consuming caffeine after 3 PM. Small tweaks may lead to big results.
Practice Authentic Acceptance
There’s a lot to be said for keeping a positive attitude and looking on the bright side. However, it’s equally important to be authentic in acknowledging how we feel. It is O.K. to allow emotions to come and go as they do naturally and not feel as though we need to shove them aside or stifle them for the sake of remaining positive. This is where a reflection journal can prove useful. Alternatively, verbally processing how you feel with a trusted friend or individual can relieve stress. Too often, people judge themselves harshly for feeling angry, disappointed or frustrated. Instead, work to accept, allow and avoid judgment.
Engaging in the creative process is a highly effective way to shift the mind’s focus, set fear aside and reduce stress. Too often, stress comes from feeling afraid, insecure or less than. Exploring your creative side helps to defy those negative feelings. Find something you enjoy—painting, writing, sculpting, engineering, designing, etc.—and set aside a window of time each week to pursue that activity.
A long-term stress management technique is consuming a balanced diet. When stress levels are high, the desire for familiar comfort foods, simple sugars and processed items often increases. While these types of foods might feel desirable in the moment, they will not provide the nourishment the body needs to refuel and face (and therefore overcome) stressful events. Consistently consuming a diet that includes fiber, healthy amounts of fats, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy (or alternatives if one has a sensitivity to a specific food) is key to successfully managing stress over the long-term.
Stress is a consistent part of life, but it doesn’t need to control the quality of it. Stress is manageable and containable, especially when we apply effective methods to face and tame it.