Today is National Stress Awareness Day — in case you weren’t aware that you’re stressed.
Actually, though. Stress isn’t just a temporary hindrance. Long-term stress can have effects far beyond the daily fluster of worries. It is the base cause of 60% of all human illness and disease, causing 10% of strokes, increasing the risk of heart disease by 40%, and reducing gray matter in the brain. On top of that, stressed people are likely to respond to the pressure with unhealthy lifestyle changes, such as losing sleep, exercising less than usual, and adopting unhealthy eating habits.
Now, before you get stressed out about all of those stats, here are some things you can do to prevent and manage stress — and just calm down.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Being stressed out can make it hard to go to sleep — but it works the other way to: sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of stress. Studies show that insomniacs have much higher level of stress hormones than people on a healthy sleep schedule. So not only is your brain being bombarded with extra stressful chemicals, but your emotional ability to reason through your difficulties is hindered too. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is just call it a night.
Try remedying your sleep cycle (and diminishing your stress) with these easy tips:
- No screens for an hour before bed
- Don’t lounge around in your bed during the day
- No coffee in the PM, no sugar after dinner
- Get plenty of exercise during the day
A huge part of stress comes from people constantly reiterating their dread to themselves: “Oh no, oh no, my rent is due next week, my cat’s sick, I have an ingrown toenail, and the McRib’s not back for another 6 months. What am I going to do?” Variations of those thoughts repeated approximately 1,000 times a day aren’t going to calm you down. As important as it is to address and overcome the things that are stressing you out, it’s also HUGELY important to take a break from stressful thoughts.
Meditation is a fantastic tool to learn how to release stressful thoughts. By silencing those buzzing worries, you give your brain, your body, and your soul a rest from the constant bombardment of dread and anxiety. This extends far beyond a temporary break — regular practice of meditation will make you calmer even when you’re not actively meditating.
What meditation does for the brain, yoga does for the body (and the brain — they’re actually pretty intertwined, it turns out). Carrying stress in your body all day and night can really do a number on your muscles. By slowly moving through yoga poses, you’re hitting the reset button on your body, releasing any tension that has been building up.
Some of those poses might get pretty difficult, especially around the 30th minute or so. Once you develop the ability to maintain Warrior 3, even when your legs are shaking and your arms feel like they’re boiling from the inside out, suddenly dealing with the problems of your everyday life is not so hard.
Buy yourself a plant
Whoever said you can’t buy friends hasn’t met our office Aloe plant (Mr. Blacc). Getting a houseplant not only brightens up a space, but will purify your air too! Spending more time in nature has been shown to relieve tension, but we know you’re busy, so bringing the nature to you might be the next best thing.
Plants don’t make for good conversationalists, but they CAN help you destress and improve productivity. Look, it’s science. If you want to know which plants can help detoxify your air, check out this list based on NASA research.
Just don’t name your plant Audrey Jr. and then turn your back on it.
Write a Metaphysical Thank You Note
Some people refer to this as “prayer,” but since we’re non-denominational here, we choose to think of it as a thank-you note instead. Take some time out of your day to think about how lucky you are and how grateful you are for the good things you have in your life. If you’re in a really bad place, you can still find SOMETHING that’s good — even if it’s just a fresh gust of wind, or a pretty autumn leaf falling from a tree.
Here’s the interesting thing: you don’t even have to mean it. Let’s say you hate your Great Aunt Trudy, she’s always coming around and pinching your cheeks and asking you when you’re going to get a significant other. Just try mechanically saying to yourself “I am thankful for Great Aunt Trudy.” While there’s nothing for Trudy in your heart but snake venom, you’ll still get some sort of positive feeling out of it. It’s amazing how malleable and how easy to manipulate our emotions are! Just by repeating words of positivity, even if there’s no honesty behind them, you start to believe them. At the very least, these positive thoughts temporarily STOP the negative thoughts that would otherwise be occurring.
While we highly recommend getting a gym membership (something on your way home so that you actively have to avoid going) — you don’t NEED a gym to work out. Do you have a laptop? Sure you do — you’re reading this, right? Well, say hello to YouTube exercise videos. No kidding, there is a wealth of informative videos out there that will get you feeling (and looking) fit. If you have a Roku or any other connection to your TV, you have access. If not, go running. If you don’t like to run, go biking or try out zumba. If you don’t have a bike, jeez, just do jumping jacks.
A huge reason many of us don’t exercise or find it hard to get into shape comes from a simple mental block. Something in your mind has told you that you’re not an “Exerciser”, that you look silly when you do squats, or that people drop their weights to point and laugh every time you bench a bar and two fives. Newsflash: IT DOESN’T MATTER what you look like or think you are. Just. Exercise. Stress is a lot easier to handle when you’ve got the energy to tackle your to-do list in 3x mode. Plus, exercise gives you concrete goals that you’re achieving everyday, making you feel in control of your life and like your actions matter. Ultimately, the act of working out helps relieve tension in your mind and body, and releases endorphins — which make you happy! It’s a win-win-win situation.
The best part? The more you work out, the more you want to work out. We’re not lying. Start exercising a few times a week if you don’t already. We dare you to tell us you don’t feel better.
We know that second cup of coffee looks tempting now, but you may be worse in the long run. Stress and nutrition are intertwined, and certain foods are known to impact stress and anxiety levels. Click here for a list of foods that may be triggering your stress.
Many studies have shown that it works in the other direction as well — stress can affect our food preferences. Evidence points to stress increasing our intake of foods high in sugar and fat. It’s a vicious circle…or perhaps a vicious donut.
Try to consume in moderation or cut some of those crappy foods out of your diet altogether and you’ll find yourself energized and calm.
Talk It Out
No matter how much you have to do, how little you think other people want to hear about it, and how good of a song I Am A Rock is, no one is an island. Talking about your stresses to a friend, family member, or even a psychologist, can help you work through the tension, provide new perspectives, and find solutions.
Even if talking about your problems doesn’t come close to fixing anything, the support of having someone listen is reassuring and comforting. Plus, the act of articulating your frustrations will provide release. It’s amazing how a problem that’s been hanging over your head all week can become small once your friend makes a funny joke out of it.
In the end you’ll be reminded that it’s that support and friendship that matters the most, not your report at work or how much is (or isn’t) in your bank account.
Get some Me-Time (with no screens)
Your life is busy. It’s easy to forget have some “me time” every day. However, it’s important to relax for at least half an hour a day and do something you really enjoy, so you can unwind.
Whether you like to take a nightly walk around the city, curl up in bed with your newest book, play with your cat, or hone your guitar skills, the time you take to do what you want to do will help restore your mental tranquility.
There’s only one rule: NO SCREENS ALLOWED! No, seriously, it has a pretty big impact on the body’s stress-levels. We know you’re going to be tempted to check your work email or maybe even get a head start on that assignment, so don’t even give yourself the chance! Shut off the computer and store your phone in a drawer. You won’t need it and might even lose track of time once you have some R&R time going on — trust us.
Don’t let stress control your life. Keep these tips in your memory bank and weave them into your everyday routine! They will improve your mental and physical health, destress you, and make your life more fulfilling. After all, you don’t want to be a big ball of stress for your weekend Vimbly activity, do you? Of course not! Stay relaxed and calm, readers! Namaste!