Just about everyone experiences a certain level of stress on a day-to-day basis. On the way to work we get stuck in rush hour traffic. We have stressful jobs, stressful relationships and stressful life events. The vast majority of adults experience moderate to severe stress, which can have negative effects on our physical and emotional health.
When severe stress is present in your life, your solution may be to search for professional help, be that a doctor you trust or a counselor you can confide in. But you can also work every day on reducing your own stress by reminding yourself of some of the do’s and don’ts listed below.
Meditation (guided or otherwise), yoga, and a walk in the park or forest are all excellent tools to calm your spirit and reconnect with that inner peace. When practicing mindfulness, you are giving your mind the opportunity to relax so serotonin levels can return to normal levels.
2. Don’t listen to punk rock or heavy metal
While you may be a big fan of this kind of music, listening to it (especially at high volumes) can actually increase your stress level. This, in turn, releases the stress hormone cortisol. There is a time and place for rocking out to your favorite music. But on a stressful day, it may be advisable to listen to relaxation music or a guided meditation.
3. Do sit down for a delicious meal
Eating is, of course, essential for survival. But did you know that sitting down for a delicious meal (homemade or at a restaurant) and taking a few deep breaths before eating will put you into a parasympathetic state? This is the “rest and digest” state your body needs to properly digest your food and absorb nutrients. Digestion starts in the brain. It signals to the mouth, stomach and other organs to start the digestion process. Eating slowly and in peace will help you know when you’re full and avoid overeating.
4. Don’t eat behind the steering wheel
… or next to your computer while working. Stress puts your body into a sympathetic state, also known as the “fight for flight” mode we all too often find ourselves stuck in. This reaction will serve you well when a deadline looms and you’re running all over the place doing 15 things at the same time. However, your blood will flow away from digestive organs and towards your heart, arms and legs. Your digestive system will slow down. You’ll likely not even take the time to chew your food into a paste. Your body will have a much harder time digesting your meal, and you will be much more likely to overeat, too.
5. Do create a to-do list
It can be extremely helpful to have a list of things you would like to accomplish throughout the day. This list can be on your phone or pinned to your refrigerator. Marking each item off as you complete your tasks will give you a sense of accomplishment. As a result, your stress level will go down. Plus, any items still left at the end of the day can simply go on top of your list for the next day. They will still be there tomorrow.
6. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
While lists can be an awesome tool to keep track of what needs to be done and what has been completed, all too often we take on more and more work. Saying “no” is often viewed as being lazy or unwilling to help others. The truth is, we are so willing to help out that we say “yes” more often than we should. This adds a tremendous amount of stress. Sometimes you just have to say “no” and trust that things will get done — even without your help.
7. Do read a good book at night
After a long day at work, it can be difficult to quiet down. When is the last time you read a good book? Reading a novel can increase brain function and productivity. Diving into a world different from your own can relieve stress and help you calm down before going to bed. Make it a habit and you’ll see an improvement in mood and sleep quality, too.
8. Don’t stare at screens
“But I read my novel on my phone or e-reader,” you say! We realize that it has become so easy to simply download a book and start reading. However, the blue light emitted by these screens tricks your body into thinking it is daytime. When your body thinks it’s day, melatonin levels will decrease. As a result, you’ll be less likely to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. Deep and restful sleep is the most important factor in dealing with stress in your daily life. At the very least, install a blue light filter on your electronic device.
Sleep, even before a healthy diet, is the single most important contributor to a healthy body. A lack of sleep leads to brain fog, poor memory, bad food choices, weight gain and a number of other side effects. All of these things combined can significantly increase stress. You may not think you have the luxury of getting enough sleep, but the truth is that your productivity will actually increase if you do sleep enough. So while you may have an hour less during the day, you’ll also need fewer breaks. Therefore, you’ll still probably be able to get everything done that you had on your to-do list.
10. Don’t stay up past midnight
Staying up until all hours of the night may feel natural to you, because you’ve been doing it for years or even decades. But you really are messing with precious sleep time. Your circadian rhythm (the internal clock that follows a 24-hour cycle of light and darkness) won’t change simply because you choose to stay up late. Also, the amount of non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is higher earlier in the night. This is as essential to restful sleep as REM sleep. Therefore, a routine of going to bed at approximately the same time every night will improve your overall sleep and ultimately how you perceive stress during the day.
Some of these recommendations may appear impossible at first. But with a little bit of practice and patience, you may find that they are just what the doctor ordered. Be kind to yourself to help you reduce stress and live a better, happier life.
— Ute Mitchell