Stress is one of those factors that is common to the human experience: we all feel it in some way or another. There is stress from work, stress from family situations, stress from planning a big party, even stress from exercise (yep, exercise in itself is a stressor!) Your body doesn’t differentiate between good stress, that which exhilarates and motivates you, and bad stress, that which, well, stresses you out.
If you don’t work to manage and cope with the stressors of life, you end up in a constant state of worry and anxiety. When you’re stuck functioning in fight-or-flight mode, your mind and body suffer. But not to worry! You can take action to protect yourself from these negative consequences of stress and re-balance your nervous system in two ways: reduce stressful inputs and increase your capacity to deal with stress through healthy habits.
By reducing stressful inputs, I mean trying to avoid the things that stress you out in the first place. Things like, limiting interactions with emotionally draining friends or coworkers, saying “no” to things you don’t really want to do and know you don’t have to do it, or walking away from conflicts that don’t serve you or anyone else.
These things aren’t always possible, so the other strategy is to start incorporating healthy habits and self-care practices into your daily routine to increase your capacity to deal with the everyday stress of life.
Healthy Habits to Mitigate Stress
Quality of Life Habits
Many of the healthy habits that contribute to an overall better quality of life and well-being also help to cope with and alleviate stress. Healthy habits include trying to get more, better quality sleep each night, focusing on eating a healthy diet filled with whole foods while reducing caffeine and sugar, including regular exercise in your weekly routine, doing physical activities you really enjoy, and dedicating time in your workouts to do some stress-relieving stretches.
Another great option for stress-relief is to practice relaxation techniques daily. You can try something as simple as Deep Breathing – sitting tall and comfortably, breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Take ten breaths like this first thing in the morning or right before bed. Or you could go a little more in depth and try meditation- either silently by yourself or with a guided meditation. There is also stress-relieving movement like yoga or tai-chi and even apps like Calm.
Take a Step Back
Finally, if the effects of stress are feeling like too much, don’t be afraid to take a step back. Take a break from whatever it is that is causing the stress. Go outside—walk, hike, garden, go for a picnic— try to spend some time in nature. Come back to the task at hand with a fresh mind and clear head. Ask for help when you need it. Ask your partner or a family member for help with the kids, ask a co-worker to collaborate on a project, etc. Perhaps most importantly, practice being flexible with your expectations of yourself.
Stress is something we all deal with, and while some types of stress can help us to feel motivated or even inspired, other types can contribute to feelings of burnout. Incorporating healthy habits or employing relaxation techniques can help alleviate stress and lead to a better overall quality of life. And most importantly remember to take care of yourself, sometimes we need to be a little selfish for our own wellbeing.