Simple Ways To Manage Stress
Stress is a ubiquitous part of the modern lifestyle. While stress cannot be prevented, it can certainly be managed with the help of some simple techniques and everyday practices. Try mindfulness meditation, listen to soothing music, and practice relaxation techniques such as visualization. Deep breathing, yoga, and meditation can also ease your stress and anxiety levels. Getting enough sleep and exercise, becoming more organized, and eating foods that help fight stress are other steps to put in place.
Stress has become an integral and inevitable part of the modern lifestyle. At some point or another, most of us have worried about our finances, relationships, looming deadlines, job security, or health issues. Add daily stressors like traffic/commute, arguments with friends or family, long lines at the checkout counter, lack of “me” time, and constantly running against the clock, and it’s no wonder people feel perennially exhausted and are experiencing burnout earlier than ever.
Believe it or not, stress has been associated with the six leading causes of death worldwide: cancer, heart disease, lung disease, accidents, liver disease, and suicide.1 It has become a very real medical concern in recent years. Research has even shown that exposure to long-stress can shrink the part of our brain that is responsible for learning and memory.2
So let’s take a good look at stress – what it is, its symptoms, and how to manage it effectively in a way that works for you.
What Is Stress?
We’ve all felt it, but what exactly is it? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand.”3 There also different kinds of stress, all of which have implications for our emotional and physical well-being. Routine sources of stress include school, work, daily stressors like traffic, and household responsibilities. But stress can also be brought on by the sudden or specific incidents like an illness, death or illness of a loved one, being laid off, being in an unhealthy relationship or marriage, or going through a messy divorce.
In general, any change, expected or not, is likely to cause stress. The American Psychological Association cautions that year after year, Americans consistently report experiencing extreme levels of stress, indicating “a serious trend that could have long-term consequences on people’s health.”4
Is Stress Always Bad?
No, it’s not. A little bit of stress is actually a good thing – it keeps you alert, focused, and helps you deliver your best performance, such as during a crucial presentation or an important exam. However, in today’s world, constant worries about money, work, family responsibilities, crammed schedules, and endless demands on our time have put us all on somewhat of a non-stop emotional roller-coaster. So while a little stress is normal, long-term stress can lead to (or worsen) several health problems and negatively impact our quality of life.
Symptoms Of Stress
Clearly, stress is a significant health concern in this day and age. The first step toward managing stress is to be aware and recognize your own stress symptoms – because people respond and react differently to stress.
Common telltale signs include:
- Feeling anxious and overwhelmed
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Becoming easily angered
- Struggling to make decisions or remember new information
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or lethargic5
Other signs of stress overload include tension headaches, grinding teeth, increased sound/light sensitivity, dizziness, dry mouth, heartburn, diarrhea, or frequent urination.6
Behavioral symptoms include nail biting, pacing, shaking your legs, overreacting to trivial things, constant fatigue, social withdrawal, and losing/gaining a lot of weight very quickly.7
The Impact Of Stress
The 2017 Stress in America survey revealed that 80% of respondents experienced at least one health symptom due to stress. About 33% reported specific health concerns such as headaches, anxiety, nervousness, depression, and feelings of being overwhelmed.8
- Long-term stress can lead to digestive problems, sleep disorders, and chronic headaches.
- It has also been linked to depression, anxiety, and asthma.
- Unhealthy stress levels can also affect your immune and reproductive health, and over prolonged periods of time even contribute to diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
- A near-constant state of stress also manifests itself behaviorally (excess drug, tobacco, or alcohol use, emotional eating) and cognitively (hopelessness, irritability, moodiness, worrying, forgetfulness).9 10 11
As we mentioned before, a little stress from time to time is okay, but if your stress levels are getting out of hand, interfering with your ability to be productive and happy at work, caring for yourself and your loved ones, or managing your time, it is time to sit up and take concrete action. So let’s take a dekko at some strategies that can help you prevent and/or manage stress effectively.
Ways To Manage Stress
1. Understand That It Is In Your Control
Even though stress is brought on by external events, the actual feeling of being stressed depends on how we think about and react to those external events. This means that no matter what our circumstances or what we do for a living, we all have the ability to reduce our stress by deploying specific coping strategies. That is the first and, quite possibly, the most empowering step!
2. Take A Deep Breath
Learn to notice how you breathe. Most of us breathe in a shallow manner, from our chest, and too quickly. Deep breathing involves breathing through your nose slowly, from deep inside your belly and letting your abdomen expand completely. Breathe out through your mouth or your nose, and notice how a full oxygen exchange can help you feel less stressed and more calm.12 Supplement this with deep breathing exercises such as pranayama so you breathe right and tank up on oxygen. Which brings us to point 3!
3. Exercise And Practice Yoga
Yes, we know, you can barely make time to exercise. We get it. That said, nothing can help you blow off some serious steam like exercise.
There are neurochemical reasons for why exercise helps lift your spirits and relieve stress. Exercise naturally lowers your body’s stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline, while also releasing the feel-good hormone – endorphins which elevate your mood, help you decompress, and feel energized and calm. And if you don’t have the time to hit the gym every day in your already packed schedule, fret not. Even a 20-minute stroll can help lower your stress levels, say experts.13
A daily yoga routine is also an effective way to rein in stress.14 Combine this with deep breathing (pranayama) and meditation and you have a winner on hand! Here are some yoga asanas and pranayama techniques you can try for stress relief.
4. Practice Meditation And Mindfulness
Meditation is proven to relax your nervous system, helping you feel calm and peaceful. Meditation can also help you feel more positive, energetic, and improve mental clarity.15 Mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing on your breathing and paying attention to the present instead of the past or future, has also been shown to ease stress.16
5. Keep An Eye On Your Diet
Although high-stress situations can drive us to eat comfort foods like mac and cheese, ice cream, pizza etc., these are usually the worst foods you can eat when you’re feeling stressed. They’ll make you feel even more sluggish and lethargic, not to mention the damage they cause to your arteries and all the inches they’ll add to your waistline. A diet that can help you stay cool under pressure and keep stress at bay should include vitamin C, magnesium, complex carbs, and omega 3 fatty acids.17 This means eating these 9 super foods including fruits, leafy greens, salmon, and black beans.
6. Listen To Relaxing Music
Several research studies have shown that listening to calming, relaxing music or just leaving it on in the background as you go about your daily business can help alleviate stress. Music with a slower tempo can relax your muscles, soothe your senses, and quiet your mind. Music that is the most effective at helping you lower stress include Celtic, Native American, and flute music, Indian stringed instrumental music, light sounds of forests, rain, thunder, and oceans, and light jazz.18
7. Get Lots Of Sleep
Not getting at least 7–9 hours of sleep every night can negatively impact your mood, stress levels, memory, and judgment. When you get fewer than hours of sleep at night, you’re making yourself more susceptible to feeling irritable, angry, overwhelmed, impatient, and ultimately more stressed. And the vicious cycle continues!19 Wind down correctly at night to ensure you get a proper night’s sleep.
8. Get Organized
A lot of our daily stress comes from not knowing what to do and/or when to do it. Lack of organization can easily lead to stress, panic, and frustrations. Using a calendar, whiteboard, or a planner can help you keep track of what you need to do, remind yourself of important deadlines, and prioritize what’s important.20
9. Stop Seeking Perfection
Setting unrealistic personal or professional goals for yourself will only exacerbate your stress. You want to set yourself up for success by simply aiming to do your very best, not by chasing perfection. Recognize your own limits, know what you can do in a given amount of time, and set realistic goals not just for yourself but also for others.
10. Try Relaxation Exercises
When done right, relaxation exercises can alleviate physical and psychological stress. It takes time and practice to execute these techniques correctly, so be patient but persist. Pranayama or breathing exercises fall into this category, so we repeat, keep at it!
Another effective technique you can try is visualization. Take 5–10 minutes in your day and let your imagination whisk you away to your happy place where you feel safe, happy, and content. Notice its sounds, sights, and smells. Focus on its sense of peace and notice your body and mind relaxing and unwinding.21
Progressive muscle relaxation is another exercise in which you progressively tense and relax muscle groups across your body. Tense each muscle group firmly but without straining the muscles. Release after 5 seconds, feeling the muscles relax. Start with your face muscles (your forehead, cheeks, eyes), move down to the neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, triceps, biceps etc., eventually ending at the toes. Pause for 10 seconds between each group of muscles.22
11. Try Natural Remedies
Many people experience stress relief from drinking chamomile tea, rosemary tea, passionflower tea, elderberry flower tea, and sage tea. Others have benefited from aromatherapy by using essential oils of rose, lavender, sandalwood, bergamot, and lemon to relieve stress and anxiety.23 Alongside pranayama and yoga, the ancient Indian medicinal practice of Ayurveda recommends abhyanga (oil massage) and nasya, where medicated oils are applied to the nasal passages, for stress management. Herbs such as ashwagandha are known to be adaptogenic and help cope with stress.24
Quick-Fix Stress Busters
The strategies we’ve outlined above can definitely help you cope with stress in the long run. There are, however, some everyday quick fixes you can put in place to address those unhealthy stress levels almost immediately.
- Reach out: Believe it or not, simply talking about your life, your situation, and your troubles with a friend, trusted coworker, partner, or a therapist can help immensely. The other person does not have to be an expert; they just need to listen to you. Receiving support and encouragement or even pouring your heart out to someone who feels the same way you do can be incredibly comforting.
- Ask for help: Many of us are conditioned to believe that asking for help indicates weakness or inefficiency. Nothing is further from the truth. Asking for help, leaning on others for support, and having a strong network of trusted friends and family members can be your greatest asset in beating stress.
- Stop trying to control everything: Not everything is in your control and seeking to control them will drain you of your energy. Focus only on the things that you can control and let go of the stuff that you can’t.
- Learn to say no: You only get 24 hours in a day like everyone else, and you can only do much in those 24 hours. Stop over-scheduling yourself. Take on only as much as you can do while also setting aside time for yourself.
- Think positive: Always focusing on the negative side of things can worsen your stress. Reward yourself for achieving your goals, no matter how small, and when something unexpected or unwanted happens, try to focus on the positive.
- Declutter: Cleaning your desk at work, your closet, kitchen pantry, or fridge can decrease clutter that surrounds you. This can help you feel more organized, less overwhelmed, and cut down on stress.
- Take time off: If you have paid time off from work, take it. A good boss will understand that you need time to decompress, take a breath, relax, and put your feet up every once in a while.
- Try journaling: When you feel your stress levels spiking, write down your thoughts in a journal. Over time, you’ll learn to spot patterns of events that cause you to feel stressed which will also help you come up with solutions.
- Pamper yourself: Take a bubble bath, get a pedicure and/or massage, book yourself a spa day, go for a nature walk, read a book, or sip on some herbal tea – whatever helps you decompress and de-stress.
References [ + ]
|1, 20.||↑||Relaxation, Stress & Sleep. Dartmouth College.|
|2.||↑||New studies of human brains show stress may shrink neurons. Stanford University.|
|3, 5, 11.||↑||5 Things You Should Know About Stress. National Institute of Mental Health.|
|4.||↑||The Impact of Stress. American Psychological Association.|
|6, 7.||↑||Stress Management. Villanova University.|
|8.||↑||Many Americans Stressed about Future of Our Nation, New APA Stress in America™ Survey Reveals. American Psychological Association.|
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|10, 15.||↑||Stress Management. Washington State University.|
|12.||↑||Take a deep breath. Harvard Medical School.|
|13.||↑||Exercising to relax. Harvard Medical School.|
|14.||↑||Michalsen, Andreas, Paul Grossman, Ayhan Acil, Jost Langhorst, Rainer Lüdtke, Tobias Esch, George Stefano, and Gustav Dobos. “Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program.” Medical Science Monitor 11, no. 12 (2005): CR555-CR561.|
|16.||↑||Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress. Harvard Medical School.|
|17.||↑||Eat Right, Drink Well, Stress Less: Stress-Reducing Foods, Herbal Supplements, and Teas. UCLA Center for East-West Medicine.|
|18.||↑||Releasing Stress Through the Power of Music. University of Nevada.|
|19.||↑||Stress and Sleep. American Psychological Association.|
|21.||↑||Relaxation Techniques. Help Guide.|
|22.||↑||Bourne, Edmund J. The anxiety and phobia workbook. New Harbinger Publications, 2011.|
|23.||↑||Aromatherapy. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|24.||↑||Singh, Narendra, Mohit Bhalla, Prashanti de Jager,and Marilena Gilca. “An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana(rejuvenator) of Ayurveda.” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 8, no. 5S(2011).|