I have been thinking, researching and learning a lot about stress lately. The ways that prolonged stress can impact your health in the long-term are both fascinating and scary at the same time.
(check out my previous post on the health impacts of stress here).
I've always been someone who stresses over just about everything, and as I learn to pay more attention to my body and health, I have started to realize how it makes me feel physically and how emotionally draining it can be. I have always found it frustrating to be told to manage my stress, or make sure I don't let it affect me without being given any actual tools or techniques on how to do it, so although it is still a major work in progress, here are some ways that I've found useful in reducing stress in my own life and I hope that they can be helpful for you too!
I started keeping a journal about 6 years ago, and it has become one of my best tools for organizing my thoughts and putting things into perspective when I'm feeling overwhelmed. The positive effects of journaling have been found to include improved mental health, lower stress, lower blood pressure, improved memory and overall feelings of well-being. There is such an intimate connection between the mind and the body that feeling negative emotions or stress on a regular basis will have a direct impact your physical health in the long run.
Personally, I prefer to just write about what is on my mind in the moment, but there are many great resources for journal prompts, or specific types of journaling as well. If you're not sure where to start, try searching "journal prompts" on Pinterest and see if any of them resonate with you. I highly recommend giving this practice a try for 30 days and see how it can help to lower stress!
It's no surprise that sleep is on this list. The effects of sleep on stress and mental health have been studied for years and consistently find that maintaining a quality sleep schedule is key to a positive stress response and mental function. Sleep is the time when your brain detoxifies itself, and your body completes important functions such as digestion, muscle rejuvenation, etc. If you are not consistently getting a good night's sleep, you are depriving your body of the opportunity to carry out these functions.
Difficulty falling or staying asleep could be a result of many factors, however I believe that stress almost always plays a role. If possible, try going to bed around the same time each night, and developing an evening routine that helps to signal your body that it is time for rest. This could include habits such as:
3. Being Organized
In my opinion, an organized space equals an organized mind. If my house or work space is cluttered, I have a hard time focusing and getting things done which eventually leads to unnecessary stress. Take some time to clean out the spaces that matter most - your bedroom, your work space, kitchen, etc. and you will feel much more in control of your daily life.
Aside from physical space, I have also learned that I NEED to keep lists in my life in order to relax. Anyone who knows me knows that at any given time, I have multiple lists on the go. When I feel like I have a hundred things to get done and am being pulled in many different directions, writing out lists of exactly what needs to be done and planning ahead always calms my mind.
4. Getting Outside
I'm not necessarily a big 'outdoors person' on a good day, but I always find that when I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed, getting some fresh air helps. For me, this usually includes a quick walk, or even just sitting outside on the back deck with a cup of tea for a few minutes to clear my head. Next time you're feeling stressed or anxious, try stepping away for a quick 10 minute walk and see how you feel!
5. Deep Breathing
By now, I'm sure you have heard or read about the benefits of deep breathing and/or meditation as a form of relief for stress and anxiety. I use this technique almost daily when I feel myself getting stressed in any given situation. Next time you feel anxiety coming on, try closing your eyes and taking 5 or 6 really deep breaths and notice how it makes you feel more calm. If you're up for something more, try listening to a guided meditation!