Stress has become an inevitable part of the modern lifestyle, caused by problems with finances, relationships, looming deadlines, job security, or health issues. Add daily stressors like traffic/commute, arguments with friends or family, lack of “me” time, and constantly running against the clock, and it’s no wonder we feel perennially exhausted and burn out earlier than ever.
Forgetting things too easily? Feeling irritable or exhausted? Your everyday stress is probably getting to you.
But it’s not just an emotional burnout; believe it or not, stress has been associated with the 6 leading causes of death worldwide: cancer, heart disease, lung disease, accidents, liver disease, and suicide.1 It can even shrink the part of your brain that is responsible for learning and memory.2
Not all stress is bad, however. 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. But if you are perpetually on an emotional roller-coaster because of stress, and it’s affecting your health and personal and professional life, take these 13 steps.
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
You will be surprised how taking 5 deep breaths, counting till 10 as you inhale and exhale each breath, can instantly calm you down.
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.3 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. But nothing can help you blow off some serious steam like exercise. Exercise naturally lowers your body’s stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline. It simultaneously releases the feel-good hormones, endorphins, which elevate your mood, help you decompress, and feel energized and calm. And even if you can’t hit the gym every day, even a 20-minute stroll can help lower your stress levels.4
On days that you are extremely busy, skip gym. Get down about 1.5 km away from your destination and walk. Even those 2o odd minutes will help.
A daily yoga routine is also an effective way to rein in stress.5 Combine this with deep breathing (pranayama) and meditation and you have a winner on hand! Yoga asanas and pranayama techniques you can try for stress relief include mountain pose and child pose.
4. Practice Meditation And Mindfulness
As you practice mindfulness meditation, focus on each and every sensation at each moment. This will take your mind off your stressors.
Meditation is proven to relax your nervous system, helping you feel calm and peaceful. Meditation can also help you feel more positive and energetic and improve mental clarity.6 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.7
5. Eat The Right Kind Of Food
Although high-stress situations can drive us to eat comfort foods like mac and cheese, ice cream, or pizza, 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.
Can you imagine a more high-stress job than that of the POTUS? Obama famously stayed off junk food and ate almonds. Yes, almonds are among the 9 superfoods that reduce stress. The others include fruits, leafy greens, salmon, and black beans. This is because a diet that helps you balance cortisol and other hormones should include vitamin C, magnesium, complex carbs, and omega 3 fatty acids.8
6. Listen To Relaxing Music
Several 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, Indian stringed instruments and flute, light sounds of forests, rain, thunder, and oceans, and light jazz.9
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. And a high stress level can in turn affect your sleep. And the vicious cycle continues!10 Wind down correctly at night to ensure you get a proper night’s sleep. How? Don’t have alcohol or caffeine 2 hours before bed, keep electronic devices away, and sleep in the nude. No, not joking about the last one. Sleeping naked has several benefits for your overall health.
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 frustration. 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.11
Whenever you feel stressed, write down your thoughts in a journal.
Another effective way of tackling stress is journaling your thoughts. Over time, you’ll learn to spot patterns of events that stress you out, which will also help you come up with solutions.
Clutter also adds to stress. 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.
9. 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 and persist. Pranayama or breathing exercises fall into this category, so we repeat, keep at it!
Visualize Your Happy Place
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.12
Tense And Then Relax Muscles
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.13
10. 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.14
Put a couple of drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow. Or take a daily dose of 1–2 teaspoons (3–6 g) of dried ashwagandha root powder.
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.15
11. Pamper Yourself
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. 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.
12. Stop Seeking Perfection
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.
Don’t overburden yourself with too many tasks. Keep enough time for relaxation.
Setting unrealistic personal or professional goals for yourself will only exacerbate your stress. Simply aim to do your very best. Don’t chase 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. Reward yourself for achieving your goals, no matter how small. When something unexpected or unwanted happens, try to focus on the positive. Don’t focus on the negative side of things.
Also realize that 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.
13. Reach Out And Ask For Help
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. Asking for help is not weakness or inefficiency.
|↑1, ↑11||Relaxation, Stress & Sleep. Dartmouth College.|
|↑2||New studies of human brains show stress may shrink neurons. Stanford University.|
|↑3||Take a deep breath. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑4||Exercising to relax. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑5||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.|
|↑6||Stress Management. Washington State University.|
|↑7||Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑8||Eat Right, Drink Well, Stress Less: Stress-Reducing Foods, Herbal Supplements, and Teas. UCLA Center for East-West Medicine.|
|↑9||Releasing Stress Through the Power of Music. University of Nevada.|
|↑10||Stress and Sleep. American Psychological Association.|
|↑12||Relaxation Techniques. Help Guide.|
|↑13||Bourne, Edmund J. The anxiety and phobia workbook. New Harbinger Publications, 2011.|
|↑14||Aromatherapy. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑15||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).|