7 Ways to Stress Less
No one ever plans on getting stressed.
It seems that stress is a big issue for us. Bigger than it’s ever been. Stressful and demanding jobs, constant pressure to do bigger and better things, busy home lives and no time to slow down.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. When you’re stressed, whether it be due to bad or good experiences, your muscles tense up, you breathe faster in an effort to distribute oxygen and blood quickly to your body core, your heart rate, and blood sugar level increase.
We can’t eliminate stress from our lives completely, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Stress is what challenges and what helps us grow, but we all know a little bit too well that too much stress can wreak havoc on our bodies and eventually cause burnout.
So, how about we try to stress less and live more?
7 WAYS TO STRESS LESS
We don’t all get stressed about the same things in our lives, that’s why there also isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with stress. There’s only one thing that works for everyone though and that’s breathing. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to our brains- this stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, also called a “rest and digest system” which promotes the state of calmness.
I’ve had gone through panic attacks where I wasn’t in a position to do anything else, other than breathe. You might remember me mentioning my dental phobia- I know it’s mostly irrational, I am aware that most of the time I overreact, but I just had a horrible experience as a kid once, and can’t help it. Walking into my dentist’s office is enough for me to start sweating and feeling anxious. I’ve cried, nearly passed out and yes, had a full-blown panic attack where I was convinced I was choking and nearing death, all during a recent root canal treatment. I wasn’t in pain, I love and trust my dentist, but I always deal with this irrational fear and I can’t help the way my mind and body react every time I’m in that chair. The only thing that helps me every time, is breathing. I put my hand on my stomach (to make sure it expands as I breathe), inhale deeply through my nose, count to three, and exhale. This helps to reverse the hyperventilation as I replace the shallow, rapid upper-lung breaths, with slow, lower-chest breathing. It also promotes ease in your body and calmness, and it’s a great way to control your body’s emergency response to sudden stress.
So…yes, don’t underestimate the power of good breathing skills. Think of it as lying on the couch, but for your mind- it’s a mentally active process that will leave you feeling calm and relaxed. You can find some simple and easy to follow breathing exercises right here.
KNOW HOW TO TAKE A BREAK
This is something that I’m definitely guilty of and something that I’m constantly trying to work on: knowing when to take a break. It doesn’t matter how much you’re enjoying your work; when you’re trying to do 10 things at once, constantly working and not getting much rest, eventually, you’ll start spreading yourself thin. Even when I’m not feeling well, I just can’t stand sitting on the couch, doing nothing. That’s when I need to remind myself that self-care is something that’s important, especially during the time of stress. This is especially important if you don’t do it too often. You need to find that time just for yourself; a time when you can relax a little and take a break- even if it’s just for 10 minutes. You can take a nap, knit, have a bath, prepare an epic meal for one, read a book- whatever it is that you enjoy doing. Or, just block out a chunk of time and do nothing at all. Don’t think of it as being unproductive, selfish or lazy- think of it as a necessity.
Exercise lifts your mood and reduces the effects of stress in the body. When you feel stressed, the best place to get some exercise is outdoors- get a good dose of the fresh air and get your body moving. Even if it’s just a brisk walk. High-intensity interval training is usually one of my favorite ways of relieving that stress. When I push myself while doing that one more burpee or one more pushup- that’s when I literally feel the stress leave my body. I sort of take it all out on that workout; sometimes that feeling of relief is so strong, that I involuntarily shed a few tears.
Your body can hold stress and tension you might not even be aware of, and some of those negative emotions can actually be released during physical activity. You can use fitness as a form of therapy, rather than thinking of it as a “chore” or an escape from the other areas of your life.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Sometimes we get upset about really small things- someone cuts you off on a highway, you had a small argument with someone at work. Once those things happen, they’re just a thought in your head and you can either choose to let it go, or you can dwell on it and overthink it which eventually leads to you feeling anxious and stressed.
This is something that has truly made the biggest difference in my life and even though there are times when I still get stressed about “little” things, I noticed that even if I do get upset about something small, I’ve learned to let it go rather than overthink it and (almost) never let it ruin my day. When you start feeling yourself getting upset about something small- step away from the situation for a few seconds, close your eyes and take a deep breath and ask yourself “am I really going to let this affect my mood? how big of a deal is this, really?“
It’s science, guys- cuddling is proven to instantly boost your mood. When you’re stressed, your cortisol levels spike- this can weaken your immune system and increase blood pressure. When we cuddle (or have other skin-to-skin contact, like holding hands) our brains release oxytocin- also known as the love hormone, that creates a sense of trust, well-being and can reduce blood pressure, stress and anxiety. Oxytocin also counters the effects of cortisol (also known as the primary stress hormone). Not that you need an excuse for a good cuddle session, but more oxytocin you release, less stressed you’ll feel.
TALK IT OUT
Whether it’s by journaling, talking to a close friend, seeing a therapist- don’t be afraid to express your feelings, or just simply talk it out with someone. Sometimes, just talking about some of the things that are weighing you down aloud is enough to make you feel a little better. Talking it out and expressing your feelings to someone else can also help put things into a different perspective.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Getting enough (good) sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your overall wellbeing. Lack of (or poor) sleep can affect everything from your creativity and decision-making to your weight and memory. Sleep is the ultimate stress-management tool.
Unfortunately, stress is also one of those areas that is often very much affected by the stress levels in your life. Stress can stimulate alertness and it can alter your sleep cycles. Unwinding before bed, staying away from stimulants and going to sleep at the same time every night, eliminating visual stimuli- these are some of the things that can help you take back control of your sleep routine. If it is something you’ve been struggling for a while though, remember that it takes time so don’t get discouraged. At the same time, it’s also important to note that there is no shame in seeking professional help if natural remedies don’t help you.
Breathe. Know how to take a break. Get active. Don’t sweat the small stuff and most importantly, know how to slow down. Everything else will catch up to you, but only if you allow yourself to slow down.
How do you guys manage stress? What are some things that help you deal with sudden stress?