For many of us with busy or complicated lives, stress is unavoidable. But over the long term, stress can lead to health problems. Chronic stress suppresses the body’s immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems, which can lead to irregular functioning. Stress also makes it hard to focus and can affect our moods and our relationships.
Happily, there are many ways to keep stress at bay.
Try this five-pronged approach: manage, nourish, exercise, relax, and sleep.
Being in control of an anxiety-producing situation can help lower stress. Those of us who have a lot on our plates at work or at home can organize our time, our schedules, and our family members/coworkers in advance. Prioritizing tasks, checking them off a to-do list as we finish them, and asking for help as needed can make everything more manageable.
We need to keep in mind, too, that we don’t have to take on everything that’s asked of us. It’s okay to just say “no” when we’re already juggling a lot of things.
Planning ahead for a stressful event, like a hard conversation with a boss or a spouse, can remove some of the anxiety. Where will the conversation take place? How will we approach it? Which directions could it go, and how will we respond? How can we end it early if we need time to think things through? Thinking of these things in advance will make us more prepared and less stressed.
While it’s tempting (and human!) to grab fast food or reach for fatty or sugary comfort food, it’s important to eat well to combat the negative effects of stress on the body. Some tips for eating to beat stress:
Get moving. It’s one of the best things we can do to reduce stress. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Exercise also reduces stress hormones like cortisol.
Schedule regular exercise—30 minutes a day is good for a mood boost. For really stressful moments, take a quick walk around the block or up and down the staircase, or do head and shoulder stretches.
Physical fitness and mental well-being have been linked in research studies, as exercise has been shown to help prevent anxiety, cause positive chemical changes in the brain, and improve self-esteem, self control, and the ability to take on new challenges.
Promote inner calm by practicing relaxation. The Harvard Health blog suggests these techniques:
In times of stress, it’s critical to get a good night’s sleep every night. Some of the techniques mentioned above will help with that—including exercise, relaxation, and supplements like valerian. You can also try aromatherapy (calming scents include lavender, geranium, rose, sandalwood, and bergamot) and reducing caffeine.
Other tips for enhancing sleep:
Stress and anxiety are regular parts of everyday life, but if they go on too long they can wreak havoc with our mental and physical health. Incorporating regular stress-busting techniques into our routines can keep the damage caused by stress at bay.
“5 things you should know about stress,” National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov
“10 ways to relieve stress & more,” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org
“Get active for mental wellbeing,” National Health Service UK, www.nhs.uk
“Manage stress,” US Department of Health and Human Services, healthfinder.gov, 8/20/19
“Nutrition and stress,” campushealth.unc.edu
“Relaxation techniques to reduce stress” by Jeannette Moninger, www.WebMD.com
“Six relaxation techniques to reduce stress,” Harvard Health Publishing, www.health.harvard.edu
Contributor: Jane Eklund