Occasional stress and anxiety are expected symptoms that arise from a busy lifestyle. While you may find that there are times that your schedule seems more manageable or you take vacations in order to escape the chaos, the best way to manage stress is to take active control. Over time, poor stress management skills can lead to high blood pressure, muscle tension, immunological problems, and insomnia, While many stressors come from external factors, sometimes we are responsible for creating or exacerbating our own stressful situations. Being aware of what causes your stress and working actively toward finding solutions for implementing better habits will help to alleviate some of the added pressures from our lives. The following are seven recommendations for effectively managing stress. Though you may have already tried a few of these ideas, remember that it takes about three weeks to really solidify a new routine and start feeling its effects.
1. Organize Your Life
In order to find ways to eliminate stress, the first thing that you really need to do is slow down and evaluate your situation. Create an inventory of all of the responsibilities, obligations, and stressors that tend to produce anxiety in your everyday life. The intention here is not to avoid the items on your list. Instead, you should carefully evaluate how or why these factors produce a stress response for you. Once you brainstorm your list, create categories of the things that are of high, medium, and low importance. Perhaps you can eliminate some of the items that are of low importance on your list. You can also think of ways to make the high priority items on your list a little bit better. Are you overstretched for time? Do you have poor time management skills? Would simple organization techniques help to streamline your responsibilities and allow you for some extra time to breathe and relax? If your to-do list is constant and insurmountable, you really need to take a day to put everything on pause and carefully assess your situation to confront and create strategies to conquer your immediate stressors.
2. Create an Exercise Routine
A lot of times, constant stressors can fatigue our systems, raising our levels of adrenaline and increasing the production of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. While you may think that you are too busy, too tired, or too stressed out to add exercise as an additional obligation in your life, you may be surprised to learn that routine exercise helps the body to metabolize stress hormones and brings the body back to homeostasis. Routine exercise gets your blood pumping, accelerates your heart rate, encourages relaxation through deep breathing, and helps you to clear your mind. Nobody is saying that you immediately have to start training to run a marathon. Simple exercises like short walks outside and ten-minute yoga routines can serve as an easy start to incorporate more exercise into your life. In addition to regulating stress hormones, regular exercise will help promote healthier sleep and sustained relaxation throughout the day.
3. Establish Better Sleep Habits
When trying to combat stress, sleep is often a tricky factor. Sometimes people develop erratic sleep patterns as a result of stress. Consequently, not sleeping well adds additional stress to our lives. The best thing to do to encourage better sleep habits is to establish a consistent bedtime routine. Clear the last hour of your day from immediate obligations. Dim the lights, avoid television and computer screens, and begin to unwind. For some people, it helps to take a bath or shower as part of their nighttime routine. You can also try reading a book, writing in a journal, listening to soft music, and yoga and stretching exercises. Avoid alcohol before sleep. Opt for some tepid water or an herbal tea specifically crafted to promote relaxation and better sleep. Try to create a routine that encourages you to be in bed at the same time on both weeknights and weekends, and try to keep your bedroom a sacred space without interruptions from work, electronic devices, and the digital world. For more information regarding the effects of stress on sleep, visit this resource provided by the American Psychological Association.
4. Get Help or Counseling
Sometimes we get so caught up in our responsibilities that we simply accept our stressors as a normal part of our lives. It can be beneficial to talk to a friend, family member, or even a licensed counselor to get control of stressful situations and how you react to them. Think of talking to someone else about your anxieties as a means of receiving an outside audit. Not only can talking to someone give you an avenue to unload and express your feelings, but your conversation partner can offer you advice and strategies for handling the situations that cause you stress and assess your situation with a fresh set of eyes.
5. Eliminate Bad Habits
People who drink coffee and alcohol in addition to those who use products containing nicotine are more prone to having stress and anxiety. Caffeine and nicotine both have a stimulant effect, meaning that they will increase the way your body responds to stressful situations instead of alleviating it. Furthermore, while alcohol is a depressant, one can easily become dependent on abusing it as a means of alleviating stress and unwinding at the end of the day. Not only does alcohol numb your senses and prevent you from tackling your stressors head on, but it also can interrupt your sleep. Drinking alcohol prevents the body from achieving deep, REM sleep, which is when your body acts to restore itself the most. Try to replace your bad habits with herbal teas, flavorful fruit juices, and even water.
6. Find New Ways to Release Tension
Many people with minimal stress and low anxiety often incorporate strategies into their everyday lives to help them to relax. Reading inspirational quotes, reciting a personal mantra, and controlled breathing exercises are simple tactics that people use to combat stress. For others, it can be helpful to undertake a new hobby. Tending to houseplants, learning to knit or sew, or further developing craftsmanship skills can also allow you to calm your mind and focus on a new, productive task. Carving time into your day to make time for routines and rituals that are effective for you can often grant you the outlet that you need for relaxation, restored creativity, and regaining control of your stressors.
7. Write in a Journal
The final recommendation for combating stress is to write in a journal. Sometimes, we are not comfortable sharing all of our thoughts and feelings with others in conversation. A journal allows for a private venue for you to vent, express your thoughts, and rationalize any situation. Keeping a journal can help you to mindfully keep track of the situations that cause the most stress for you on a daily basis. Even the mere physical act of writing on paper helps to alleviate tension and focus your mind and energy on something else. Even if it’s just 10 minutes per day, journaling can help you transition from work to home life or unwind at the end of the day in order to alleviate tension and promote better sleep.
In total, finding ways to actively approach your stressors instead of running away from them or accepting them as an unchangeable aspect of your immediate reality will be the best way to alleviate stress. Whether through organization, exercise, or establishing new habits to take control of your stressors and approach a mindful, healthy lifestyle, try out these strategies one at a time to see what works best for you. Sometimes, all that it takes is some careful introspection and evaluation of your current habits and situation to reform your life, alleviate tension, and restructure the way that your mind and body respond to stressful situations.