Having some level of stress present in our day to day lives became normal in modern society. Many of us juggle long working hours with family commitments and social activities. Being able to perform faster and getting more and more things done sometimes can seem essential for our success in life. As a result we often end up feeling overwhelmed and ultimately our own health and wellbeing can suffer.
Where does stress come from?
The feeling of psychological strain and pressure is what we know as stress. It can be caused by external circumstances, but we also generate stress internally, when we perceive a situation threatening and we believe that we might not be able to cope with it. These threats may or may not be true, nevertheless we can find ourselves overwhelmed by negative emotions, fear and anxiety, simply due to our own perceptions.
Research has proven that manageable amount of stress has many benefits. It can sharpen our focus, can motivate us when tackling difficult tasks and can even improve our memory.
However, stress that stays around for weeks or months at a time, weakens the immune system, can lead to fatigue, depression and other health issues. Chronic stress can constrict blood vessels and as a result increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
Fortunately, there are plenty of simple yet powerful tools which are available to us when it comes to managing stress. The tips below can help you feel a bit lighter and when brought into your everyday routine, they can ultimately improve your overall wellbeing.
Managing stress effectively
Let’s start with the three fundamentals of energy: healthy nutrition, regular exercise and sufficient sleep. While these sound obvious, they are often overlooked.
1. Healthy Nutrition
Support your immune system and lighten the load on your digestive system by eating a regular, well-balanced, whole food and preferably plant based diet. Keeping a close eye on your sugar intake will contribute to balanced blood sugar levels, which in turn can help with stabilizing your mood and feeling better in general.
2. Regular Exercise
Even if you can only fit into your schedule 30 minutes, three to five times a day, you will notice a huge difference in your energy levels and mood. To stay motivated, it is important to choose something that you like. My first pick is yoga, because it is a union of movement and meditation, and you can even do it in the comfort of your own home. With regular practice you not only improve your flexibility and increase your strength, but it can also help with managing stress by clearing your mind and relieving tension, giving you a sense of inner calm.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Decades of research has proven that sleep is the single most important factor in health and wellbeing. According to some scientists, even more so than exercise, diet and genetics. The quantity and quality of your sleep significantly affects your mood, your ability to think and remember and, the optimal functioning of your immune system.
Now that we have put down the above foundations, let’s look at some other useful tips and habits you can implement into your everyday life that can help managing stress.
• Prioritise and tackle one thing at a time
When a mountain of tasks or worries is staring at us, we can easily end up feeling under pressure. But let’s not forget about the nice little staircase that can lead us to the top! Break down bigger projects into manageable ones, and prioritise to achieve your goals step by step.
• Loose the critic and cultivate (self-)compassion
Comparing or judging ourselves and others can bring unnecessary mental suffering to everyone involved. As Brené Brown in her book, Daring Greatly says, there is a difference between healthy thriving and perfectionism. The latter implies that if I look and live perfect and never make any mistakes, I can avoid or minimise judgement and getting hurt. However, perfectionism is often a cover up for our ultimate fear, the fear of not being good enough. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as perfect and doing your best is always enough.
• Put things into perspective
Remember, while stress can be caused by external circumstances, we often create quite a significant amount internally ourselves. Aspire to drop judgement and don´t allow relatively small annoyances, like impolite service in a shop, spoil your day. When you find yourself overly dramatizing certain events, for example thinking that making a mistake at work will ruin your entire career, stop and switch your inner monologue to a more supportive one. Catch self-defeating, negative thoughts before they can take hold.
• Practice mindfulness and master the art of slowing down
Living mindfully reconnects us with the present moment in a profound way. When we move from ‘autopilot’ to conscious, mindful action or just simply ‘being’, we can ease feelings of being overwhelmed and can achieve our goals with more ease. There is a natural ‘slowing down of time’ that we can sense when becoming more mindful, and as we become more present, our thoughts will also eventually stop racing.
Practicing mindfulness based meditations and implementing the attitude of mindfulness into your day to day life can be a game changer when it comes to managing stress.
• Breathe and calm your mind through meditation
As little as ten to fifteen minutes of conscious breathing and other mediation techniques can take you from a high alert, fight or flight mode to a much calmer place. Implement a simple meditation into your daily routine, like this one.
• Limit your screen time and your social & news media intake
Through our various devices, like our computer, smart phone and smart watch, we are exposed to an unlimited amount of mostly unfiltered information. While staying informed is important, make sure that the information you are feeding your brain is from a trusted source and is really what you need at the moment. Managing stress can become a challenge, if you have a habit of reading anxiety-inducing news several times a day. Try to cap your news intake and also cut down on scrolling aimlessly on social media. Instead, use social media platforms to connect directly with loved ones and members of your community.
• Journal for emotional detox
Journaling can be an effective way to manage stress, by emptying the mind from those racing thoughts and letting go of heavy emotions. Grab a note book and pen, and just allow your words to flow.
• Get in touch with your creative side, do something that brings you joy
Making time to do something that you love every day is a great way to nourish your soul. Maybe it is listening to music, dancing, playing with your kids or even just watching a movie from the sofa with your loved ones. Do you have some extra energy? Do something creative! You can cultivate creativity in many ways: by painting, cooking, making music, redecorating your house, rebuilding engines… whatever makes your heart sing. We are by nature creative, but it often gets lost along the way. Unused creative energies stagnate and they can turn into frustration, judgement and other negative emotions. Getting in touch with your creative side, on the other hand, can be immensely healing and uplifting.
• Spend some time in nature
Spending some time in natural environments is proven to have a calming effect on the mind. Nature doesn´t only soothe you emotionally, but consequently it also can reduce your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension, easing anxiety and managing stress effectively.
If you found yourself stuck in your home and don’t have a garden, consider getting some house plants. They will oxygenate your living spaces, and caring for them can naturally boost your mood.
Implementing some of the above tips can help to reduce the pressure of stress in your day to day experience and bring some peace of mind. Making fundamental changes to your lifestyle might require some more time and effort, so do it one step at a time and be patient.