I don’t know about you, but lately it seems like we’re all a little more stressed than usual. While a short season of stress can be easy to recover from, prolonged periods of stress can lead to all kinds of health issues, including weight gain, depression, and even a heart attack or stroke. Maintaining our best health is a priority, and stress management is key to maintaining good health during these periods. Fortunately, there are ways to manage your stress, and I’ve got 5 tips you can incorporate right now.
Types of Stress
There are two main types of stress that affect our lives: acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is a reaction to a temporary threat, issue, or obstacle we’re facing. This is often called the “fight or flight” response, and it is the body’s innate response to danger or situations that are not under our control – the example often cited is a mother picking up a car to rescue her child trapped underneath it. This type of stress has kept us alive (and safe from danger) for thousands of years, and our bodies are able to recover from this type of temporary stress without damage.
However, when our bodies are in stress mode for prolonged periods of time, the body releases a continual stream of cortisol hormones into the bloodstream, and throws everything out of whack. Stresses over money, time or lack of it, work, family, social issues, and general uncertainty affect more than 75% of Americans, and the effects can be devastating. According to the American Institute of Stress, many diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and depression are linked to chronic stress.
The good news is we can do something about it. I’ve got some tips to help you manage stress in your life – feel free to pass these tips along to someone else who needs them!
Tip #1: Get Some Sleep
While this might seem like a no brainer, many of us don’t get a full night’s sleep. It’s recommended that adults sleep 7-9 hours per night, but the national average is 6.8 hours. Your body needs time to rest and reset, otherwise we wouldn’t need to sleep at all. When you skimp out on sleep, you’re depriving your body of the time it needs to reset and recharge for the next day. Also, when you constantly miss out on adequate sleep, your risk of heart disease, weight gain, and depression increases.
Some tips to help you sleep better:
- Turn off all electronics one hour before bed. The light from your devices upsets your body’s circadian rhythm by tricking the body into thinking it’s daytime and making it harder for the body to settle down for sleep.
- Eat 3-4 hours before lying down. That gives your body time to properly digest food; otherwise when you lie down your body is still working to break down your meal which makes it harder to relax into a sleep state.
- Create a routine. When you have a set schedule, your body gets into a rhythm and will naturally begin to wind down around the same time, making it easier to go to sleep.
- Turn down the temperature. Sleeping in a cooler room will allow your body to rest easier – according to the Sleep Foundation, the optimal temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees.
- Limit caffeine. I know you don’t want to hear it, but the effects of caffeine can continue for up to 12 hours after you’ve had your last cup. So if you’ve been drinking double shots all day and you can’t seem to wind down at night, try reducing your caffeine intake and see what happens.
Tip #2: Move Your Body
One of the best ways to relieve stress is movement – exercise reduces stress hormones and releases endorphins – and as Elle Woods said, “endorphins make you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands”.
But seriously though, exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety, stress, and even depression. Finding something you like has never been easier and the options are endless – I fell in love with Zumba almost 10 years ago, and it is still my go to exercise. The combination of dance & cardio just works for me, and the short duration of each song ensures I don’t get bored like I did when I worked out on machines at the gym. I also love to go for a walk or practice yoga with my daughter – it’s one of the best ways to get her into a better mood. If you don’t have an established exercise routine, try finding something you like to do – and stick to it! (Related Post: Why You Need to Exercise Right Now)
Tip #3: Eat Well
I can’t stress enough (pun intended) the importance of a healthy diet in reducing stress. A diet high in nutrients found in a whole foods plant based diet can help the body avoid the high spikes and dips in blood sugar common with eating foods in the Standard American Diet, and can help the body suppress chronic stress hormones. Focus on including foods high in B vitamins, Omegas (here’s my favorite Omega supplement), and Magnesium – these nutrients support healthy nerve function.
Tip #4: Get a Hobby
Finding an activity you like is a great way to relax, so if you don’t have a hobby, it’s time to find one! Adult coloring books and journals have become popular and are a great way to reduce stress. Another cool option you might not have thought about – adult Lego sets. My youngest went through a Lego phase, and I actually built all of her Lego sets because she just wanted to play and couldn’t be bothered with the actual work. Truth be told, I have never been a fan of Legos, but I felt such a sense of calm and satisfaction each time I put together a part of the structure – if it can work for me, it’s definitely worth trying. Lego has dozens of options available, and I love the Las Vegas and Paris skyline kits.
If these options don’t pique your interest, maybe you need an activity that’s more physical. How about joining a sports league in your area, signing up for a 5k, or taking dance lessons? Playing music or trying your hand at painting or sculpting are great options as well, and one of my favorite ways to relax is cooking a great meal. Try a few things until you find what works for you.
Tip #5: Enjoy the Outdoors
Getting outside and enjoying the fresh air can be a great stress reducer. In Japan, Forest Bathing was introduced to combat the high stress and death rates of workers. Research showed that being in nature and even gazing at forest scenery decreased stress hormones. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, get up and take a walk, or drive, to a park and enjoy the view. If you’re near a beach (lucky you!), spend some time watching the water and listening to the waves. We went to Hawaii a few years ago, and I recorded the sound of the ocean waves. Whenever I listen to it, I feel a sense of peace and calm. If you can’t get to the ocean, there are plenty of apps offering nature sounds – I have the Sleep Pillow app (it’s free) and I love listening to the thunderstorm track.
In Case of Extreme Stress
These tips can help you reduce your stress level, but sometimes we need more support, especially when our mental, physical and/or emotional health is suffering. If you’re struggling with finding balance in your life, you might benefit from coaching. However, if stress is negatively affecting your health and your life, please seek professional and/or medical advice – they may be able to help.
I would love to know which of these tips you’re going to try – drop a comment below or send me a note. And if you have some different ways you like to de-stress, let me know!