6 THINGS THAT CHANGED THE WAY I DEAL WITH STRESS
Most of us don’t have the time or desire to acknowledge how much stress impacts our health. It’s become so woven into the fabric of our daily lives that its often too overwhelming to even think about minimizing it’s impacts. We believe it’s simply a required part of life. And in a way, it is. Stress is inevitable - whether the source is work, kids, relationships, exercise or that daily commute - but letting it run our lives and ruin our health doesn’t have to be. We can't always control sources of stress, but we CAN control how we perceive it, react to it, and therefore how it impacts our mental and physical health.
It took some pretty bad anxiety, disrupted sleep, burned out adrenals and general discontent before I started paying attention to how much stress was affecting me. By the time I committed to healthier habits around managing stress, it had already wreaked havoc on my digestion, immune function, sleep, weight and sanity. I no longer had the energy to have or be fun anymore. Don’t let stress make you a Debbie Downer. Use these simple but transformative tips to help you manage stress before you find yourself perpetually frazzled, bloated, angry, and downright miserable.
CULTIVATE AWARENESS: Cultivating greater self awareness is a REALLY important step towards preventing and managing the negative impacts of stress. I believe the most important one. If you’re unaware of how much stress is affecting the quality of your life, you’re less likely to recognize the need for change, no matter make it happen. Being more dialed into your mental and physical state, as uncomfortable as that can be, opens the door to positive change. I began cultivating greater awareness in therapy and with daily journaling and meditation, but there are much simpler and faster ways to do it too!
MAKE IT HAPPEN: Check in with yourself before breakfast, lunch and dinner (easy times to remember) and rate your stress level on a scale of 1-10.
PRIORITIZE SUFFICIENT SLEEP: Sleep is profoundly important in so many ways, and I probably don’t have to tell you that it has a HUGE impact on how you perceive and manage stress. I’m sure you’ve felt the difference between dealing with your kid’s very public meltdown at the zoo on 8 hours of sleep versus on 4. Studies show that when you’re sleep deprived, you’re much more likely to feel overwhelmed by even the smallest stressor, experience increased anger and irritability, and decreased patience, motivation, and of course energy. I was a walking manifestation of those side effects in my last career and to this day I am still shocked by how much an additional hour or so of sleep has entirely changed my perspective on stress and life in general!
FIND THE TIME: Binge on Netflix less, come home from that party or work event 1 hour early, work out at lunch instead of at 5:00 am, ask your partner to trade off night duty with the kids, spend less time scrolling on social media or watching TV at night.
USE MBSR - MINDFULNESS FOR THE NONCOMMITTAL: Mindfulness based stress reduction is a beautiful thing - and not just because it trains our brains and bodies to react to stress differently. I love it because it’s all about easy to integrate but high impact tactics for stress reduction that work great for people not quite ready to commit to daily meditation. I started using these tools about 15 years ago, before I was ready to dive into daily meditation practice, and they’ve helped me navigate work and relationship stress in particularly helpful ways.
TRY IT OUT: Check out this article on MBSR with lots of options OR do a quick body scan with your eyes closed when you wake up in the morning, take 15 minutes for some mindful movement at lunch, focus on your breath for 30 seconds after your boss pisses you off - they all count as MBSR!
MEDITATE: Not only does meditation increase the kind of self awareness that helps you better identify triggers and recognize the beginning stages of a building stress response, it also changes the way you perceive and react to stress. In addition to enhancing emotional and physical well-being, I’m a huge advocate of meditation for all these reasons and can’t recommend it enough. It has literally changed my life, not just the way I deal with stress!
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE: Don’t waste time stressing about when, how and where to make meditation happen. The details really don’t matter. Instead, try using an app like Headspace or Calm so you can experiment with as little as 2 minutes of meditation walking to work, in the car, at home in a quiet place, literally anywhere it fits into your life. Or head to a studio like Within and let an expert lead the way.
CREATE A GROUNDING MORNING ROUTINE: Setting the tone early in the day is profoundly effective when it comes to stress management. The first 5 minutes you’re awake can have a massive impact on stress levels, stress response AND overall happiness throughout the rest of the day. When I stopped mindlessly rushing through the motions in the morning, I found my stress levels plummeted AND my creativity, problem solving and ability to take a beat before reacting increased throughout the whole day.
GET GROUNDED: Try leaving your phone in another room overnight or keeping it on airplane mode until you’ve had at least 5 minutes to let your brain wake up. When you get out of bed, do a simple stretch and check in with your body and brain. How are you feeling today? What’s on your mind?Do this BEFORE you check your email, messages and stress-inducing news feeds. If possible, take it to the next level and have some water with lemon or your morning tea or coffee in silence in a peaceful spot. Not possible? Just keep your eyes closed in bed for at least 2 minutes before getting up to tend to the needs of those around you and use that time to set an intention, think about the kind of day you hope to have or list 10 things you’re grateful for!
BREAK UP THE DAY: Taking even 5 minutes for yourself to do some MBSR, a quick meditation, some stretches or a walk around the block can help keep cortisol (stress hormone) levels from rising, rising, rising. It’s a wonderfully simple way to reset and decompress and it doesn’t need to be anything fancy or time consuming. Especially when I was working for a big global company, I found my stress levels were at their worst around 3 pm. When I tore myself away from whatever I was working on for a quick reset, I always returned to tough conversations, team meetings or group projects a better person with a clearer perspective.
Set a daily reminder on your calendar and don’t just hit “ignore”. Get your bum up out of the chair and give yourself the gift of a reset. In this case, you’re the only thing holding you back from decompressing a little!