Of course, if your stress is out of control to the point where you fear you’ll hurt yourself – or someone else – then you should always seek the intervention of a professional first and foremost.
There are five fundamental ways you can ease the stress in your life – and they’re all based on simple modifications you can make in your own lifestyle. From better planning to diet and exercise – even better sleep – you can take control of the situation and feel better in an instant.
Eliminate and Modify Your Plans
Sometimes we put ourselves directly in the path of oncoming stress. The first thing you have to do is become aware. Awareness is key to managing stress loads, and sometimes we turn a blind eye to things that upset us the most.
Get yourself a journal and jot down an entire week’s worth of stress. Whenever you feel upset, even if it’s only for 20 minutes, write down the root cause and how long it lasted.
Once you become aware of constant factors in your stress load, you can work to eliminate or modify how you interact with them on a regular basis, if at all!
Traffic is a good example of stress, and some people fight traffic day after day, during a morning commute and early evening rush hour. There are ways to improve the situation to some degree, such as leaving early for work or taking a different route.
Romantic relationships can cause a great deal of stress when they become less romantic and more volatile. Instead of hanging onto something toxic in your life, address it head on – with couples counseling, or by breaking it off and opening your life up to something healthy for you.
Familial relationships are sometimes toxic, too. Some people can’t close the door on family, but you can learn how to construct safe boundaries by not allowing yourself to be used or abused.
Friendships can be unhealthy and stressful. Know when to have a talk with a friend about the way you’re being treated, and when to let go of these friendships that do more harm than good.
Finances are a major source of stress, and many people think they’re powerless to control them. But they’re wrong. You can pursue a good debt management strategy and pay off what you owe, start saving and begin earning more if you plan for it.
Control Stress By Controlling Your Diet
There are many ways that stress affects our diets – and ways that stress is affected by our diets, too. Most people only grasp the unhealthy connection – comfort eating during periods of high stress.
The first thing you need to do is stop emotionally soothing yourself with food. Then, look at ways that food can become your friend during times of stress. What we normally do when comfort eating is binge on high salt and high sugar foods.
What you really need to do is look for foods that have an opposite effect on your body than stress does. For example, stress causes you to feel fatigued, so in the past, you might have turned to sugar to get a jolt of energy.
Nuts are a great food that instantly goes to work in your body to keep cortisol levels down when they spike. Cortisol is the stress hormone that gives you that “fight or flight” feeling when anxiety hits.
High potassium foods like bananas or avocados help combat stress. When you get stressed out, your blood pressure spikes. Foods rich in potassium help lower your blood pressure.
Another thing that happens when your body feels stressed is your blood sugar can spike. There are some foods, such as oatmeal or whole grain breads (complex carbs) that stabilize your blood sugar and help keep you calm. They also boost your serotonin (feel good) hormones.
There are certain foods filled with folic acid that help keep stress low. Any dark, leafy green like kale, collards, spinach and turnips will work. Citrus foods, beans and seeds will also do the job.
One of the health side effects of chronic stress is constipation. If this affects you, then you want to turn to foods high in fiber. Beans, corn, whole wheat foods, oatmeal and berries are all high in fiber.
Researchers have discovered that those who lack vitamin B have a propensity to develop feelings of anxiety. You might be lacking in this, so eat foods rich in B vitamins, such as shellfish, soy, low fat dairy and eggs.
Let Your Endorphins Snuff Out Stress for Good
It’s a myth to think that if you exercise, all of your stress will simply disappear. It doesn’t work like that. Stress will be around you no matter what – but what exercise does is help you be better able to handle stress so that it doesn’t take the same toll on you that it is now.
Endorphins are commonly called happy hormones because they create a “feel good” effect in your mind when they hit. They’re actually neurotransmitters that get released in your body to fight the cortisol (negative hormone) that’s bringing you down.
Many people form a love of exercise because after awhile of engaging in it, they become used to the release of the endorphins. Not only does it deliver physical stress relief, but it clears your mind, too – because it allows more oxygen to reach your bloodstream.
At first, you might feel tired from exercising. But over time, exercise actually helps you feel less fatigued. You’ll become stronger, have more energy, and your mental clarity will skyrocket.
When you exercise regularly, you end up seeing long-term stress relief benefits. Not only will your mood improve, but you’ll sleep better at night. Getting enough exercise is great, but even a quick 5-minute aerobic jolt to your system can pack a punch when it comes to endorphins.
One way to get more exercise is to have fun with it. Don’t make it a chore. If you hate going to the gym, then don’t! Do something else instead, like rollerblading or another activity or sport that gets your heart rate up.
It’s not just aerobics that release endorphins. Even slower exercise has that effect, just at a different level. You can engage in meditation or yoga and feel the benefits of endorphins being released.
When you exercise, we know that it delivers other health benefits to your body, like assisting you in managing your blood pressure, for example. So when stress does hit you and your blood pressure rises slightly, exercise will already have you at more manageable levels, so you won’t be putting yourself in danger.
If you have been sedentary for a long period of time, it’s best not to jump right into a strenuous routine where you might possibly harm or injure your body from the rigorous movements.
Start out slower and in small increments and build on your routine from there. As you increase your time and effort, you’ll start to feel even more of the physical and mental boost that you get from engaging in this form of stress relief.
Improve Your Sleep and Watch Stress Dissipate
If there’s one thing that creates a vicious cycle in the stress world, it’s insomnia. The sleep and stress connection is brutal because if you don’t get enough sleep, you get stressed the next day – and if you’re stressed, you can’t sleep.
Where does it all end?
It ends when you regain control of the situation. It’s one thing to address the stress that you can deal with – but you also have to handle the sleep issue on its own.
It’s almost a chicken and the egg situation – nobody knows which came first – the insomnia or the stress – but you have to tackle it head on to make sure it gets sorted out.
Start by making sure you have good sleep hygiene. That means get a comfortable bed with bedding, set your room temperature to a nice, cool level, and remove all technology from the room to help induce sleep.
Develop a bedtime routine. This trains your subconscious mind to know when it’s nearing bedtime, and it starts to shut down and feel drowsy. That might mean taking a nice, warm bath, reading a book, and having a light snack to stave off hunger until morning.
If you’re easily woken up during the night and then find it hard to fall back asleep, make sure you help yourself not get roused from your slumber. That might mean using a white noise machine so that you don’t hear sounds easily.
You can buy a specific white noise machine that’s meant to drown out noise, or you can use things like a fan in your room, turned to a setting that hides outside noise from you.
You might need something to help you drift off. In that case, try aromatherapy. It can be dispensed in the room with scents like lavender that have soothing aromas to relax and calm the mind.
Sometimes it’s nothing you’re doing, but something your sleeping partner is doing that makes you unable to sleep. If you have a partner who has sleep apnea, for example, then he or she needs to get fitted for a sleep apnea mask so that they’re not choking themselves awake and startling you in the middle of the night.
You may need to use an over the counter helper like melatonin, which weakens as you age, to help you fall (and stay) asleep. You can start out with a low dose and increase it until you find one that works best for you.
Indulge in Self Care to Tame Terrible Stress
Sometimes our minds just won’t quit. They relive the stress even when we’re out of immediate danger. So if this happens to you, you’ll need to work on specific nurturing to your body and mind to help alleviate the pressure your mind is putting on you.
Everyone has a different idea of what self care means. For some, it includes a little much-needed “me time” away from everyone – time to just be alone with your thoughts and free of distractions.
You might find that taking time for a nice, warm bath each night is plenty of relaxation for you. Or, maybe you need to get out of the house and engage in an activity like photography, sports, or socialization.
Sometimes we need a little more specific self care. You might save up for a stress-relieving spa activity, like a manicure, pedicure, massage or facial that will relax you.
You can also do all of those things yourself at home using organic skincare products and essential oil blends that promote relaxation in your home. There are many spa tools for at-home use that might help make it a wonderful experience.
You may need to engage in some serious mental stress relief. For example, you can meditate or use guided meditation if you don’t know how to do it on your own.
You may also want to check out how EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) works. This is a tool you can use anywhere discreetly to provide instant stress relief.
There are many ways you can help control stress in your life. And for the stress that you’re unable to avoid, you can always educate yourself about how to better manage your reaction to that stress.
Sample the ideas and try combining those that work best for you. Sometimes, a specific stress relief tactic won’t deliver any results for you – and that’s okay. It just means your body and mind will react to a different strategy better!