Stress affects us all and can be both good and bad. The key is mastering how to manage stress well!
Here are sixteen practical strategies to deal with stress.
While they are all important, I’ve found over the years that number 1, 10 and 16 are the most vital for the majority of people.
Deep breathing is the most simple and effective way to instantly relieve the effects of stress. It has numerous benefits for the body, including oxygenating the blood, which ‘wakes up’ the brain, relaxing muscles and quieting the mind. Breathing exercises are especially helpful because you can do them anywhere, and they work quickly so you can de-stress in a flash.
Breathing is the only part of your Autonomic Nervous System that you can control, which signals to your entire system that you are calm and relaxed. This really is the number one strategy for evoking your body’s relaxation response and shifting your bio-chemistry to a state of well-being.
2. Eating Real Food
We are what we eat. In our modern time pressured world with highly processed foods in abundance, choose to eat as much fresh ‘real food‘ as possible. Aim to eat the rainbow every day – a full range of colours to ensure that you get a good dose of all of the essential minerals and vitamins you need to ensure good health. Aim to reduce the consumption of harmful substances such as alcohol and high amounts of saturated fats. Drink herbal teas which are rich in anti-oxidants.
In particular there are certain foods that are especially good for your brain and which boost your mood.
You are only ever one workout away from a great mood!
Exercise is without a doubt one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health & to reduce stress. It provides a distraction from stressful situations, as well as an outlet for frustrations. It burns of excess cortisol and gives you a lift via endorphins.
A balance of both strength training and cardio and slow and fast movement patterns are important. My philosophy is to snack on exercise. Everyone can fit in four minutes a day! The key is to find the mode of exercise that you enjoy – try lots of different options even ones you may not have thought of. Most people prefer working out in a group environment. Find what works best for you and make it a priority!
We have all heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine” and it really does have huge physical, mental and emotional benefits. Research has shown that even a fake smile or fake laugh have benefits and often lead to real laughter which lifts our mood and releases chemicals in the body that make us feel great combating stress. Try watching funny videos on YouTube, playing games, pulling funny faces in the mirror or anything else that you know will get you laughing – you will surprise yourself at how easy and effective this is especially if you are feeling down – all you need to do is choose to get started!
Our environment has a profound effect on how we feel. Picture your office, your kitchen, lounge, bedroom etc when they are clean and clear of clutter. Walking into a room that is tidy, organised and which has fresh flowers or a plant for example will transform how you feel about being in that space compared to walking into the same room with clutter and mess everywhere. Focus on the environments where you spend the most time and keep those clutter free even if other rooms in the house or other work areas aren’t as tidy.
To stay on top of clutter, it is worthwhile taking the time to set up systems that make it easy to keep things in their place. Little and often works wonders. You can put on some upbeat music and spring clean your office or house for just 10 focused minutes every day and live in uncluttered paradise forever!
6. Time Management
Great time management can allow you to be more productive, getting more done in less time. Imagine being able to leave work fully satisfied with all that you’ve done for that day having been as productive as possible.
Remember that you can feel you are putting in 100% but not actually be 100% effective. Effectiveness is all about working smarter not harder. Following simple time management disciplines can save you minutes and even hours a day! Just picture that!!
7. Understanding Ultradian Rhythms
As well as having a circadian rhythm – which affects us over a 24 hour period, we also have several shorter ultradian rhythms.
Lesley Gillett in her book “Sleep Your Way to Success” introduced me to these Ultradian rhythms we all experience. ‘Ultra’ means ‘many’ and ‘dian’ means ‘day’. She explains that it’s important to recognise these cycles which have a 90-120 minute up cycle and a 15-20 minute down cycle and respond to them appropriately.
Our body is designed to perform well for a period after which we need to take a break to re-set. This allows our immune system to function and set us up to have clarity of thought, creativity and high energy levels to be able to perform well in our next ‘up cycle’. If we ignore the body’s signals (fatigue, clumsiness, feeling fidgety, distracted, thirsty or hungry) and we try to push through the natural ‘down cycle’ too often we end up pushing our bodies to a point where they can’t function optimally.
This all ties in with my philosophy of snacking on exercise and breaking your sitting day up with movement. Research has shown that sitting down for long periods has many negative consequences for your health, even if you exercise. So if you have a sedentary job it is especially important to focus on adding movement back into your day. Sometimes fast to get your heart rate up, sometimes relaxing to allow your body to process information and self regulate, making you more productive in the long run!
8. Learning Assertive Communication Skills
Assertiveness is the ability to express one’s feelings and assert one’s rights while respecting the feelings and rights of others. Assertive communication is appropriately direct, open and honest, and clarifies one’s needs to the other person. It can strengthen your relationships, reducing stress from conflict and providing you with social support when facing difficult times.
A polite but assertive ‘no’ to excessive requests from others will enable you to avoid overloading your schedule and promote balance in your life. Assertive communication can also help you handle difficult family, friends and co-workers more easily, reducing drama and stress.
Taking time to record your thoughts/feelings at the end of each day is incredibly therapeutic. Especially when you focus on the things you’re grateful for. It is particularly useful to think of as many things as you can that you are thankful for each day.
Journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, improves cognitive functioning, strengthens the immune system, preventing a host of illnesses & counteracts many of the negative effects of stress.
10. Mindfulness / Being Present
Taking time out to ‘be still’ is essential on a regular basis to balance out the rush and busy-ness which puts stress on our bodies and minds. Even short periods of quiet time are hugely beneficial – it can be as easy as turning the TV off and sitting to take a few deep breaths, having a cup of your favourite tea, doing a few stretches, walking in a garden for a few minutes or mindfully enjoying a meal. Meditating on positive uplifting literature can quickly direct your thoughts down positive channels and break negative thinking patterns.
Often we spend a lot of time stuck inside our own heads, worrying about the future or re-living the past rather than just simply being present. Being present means that you are fully engaged with what you are doing and what you are surrounded by at the time. If your mind is elsewhere it’s as though we are just going through the motions and not really living life in full colour. The fastest way to ensure that you are present is to tune into what your body is doing and to practise being mindful of where you are, how your body feels, how your breathing is and what sounds you can hear around you. Let go of worrying about the future or over planning things and just be present, trusting that later on you will be present and be able to deal with that future moment too.
11. Moving your Body!
There is a very strong link between your physiology and your psychology. If you are feeling low or down this is reflecting in your posture. Interestingly, your posture also influences how you feel. Because of this, a simple tool you can use to instantly lift your mood is changing your posture. Lifting both arms above your head in a ‘V’ is the international sign for success. Rolling your shoulders back and down and standing tall and proud or simply looking up at the sky or ceiling are also great instant ‘pick me ups.’
12. Time Outdoors
There is something special about being out in nature. Humans are not designed to be inside all day. It is rejuvenating to be surrounded by plants/birds etc and to just focus on the environment around you. Take a walk ideally somewhere ‘green’ such as a local park, river or botanic garden. Focus on being present and aware of all the sounds, sights & textures around you.
Try out gardening. Even for those without green thumbs, getting into the garden and getting your fingers into some dirt is calming and relaxing. The feeling of creating something new or improving a space is very satisfying and can lead to practical benefits such as having your own home grown herbs, fruit and vegetables or simply creating a wonderful space for you to sit outside and admire your surroundings. Go to your local garden centre and get some advice on how to get started & what to plant when and enjoy the fresh produce in your cooking!
Picture how you feel when your favourite song comes on! Music has the power to influence how we feel. Music therapy has shown numerous health benefits for people with conditions ranging from mild (like stress) to severe (like cancer). When dealing with stress, the right music can actually lower your blood pressure, relax your body and calm your mind. Choose music to suit your desired mood and the time of day. It may be that you want something lively to get you up and going, something relaxing or something that just makes you want to dance!
14. Being Creative
We all have some innate creative talents, even though we don’t always find ways to express these. Try some new creative activities such as painting or working with mixed media, jewellery making, wood working, flower arranging, clay work, baking/cooking, sewing, music/percussion, creative writing. Get some equipment together and get started or search out a club or short course to join to get your creative juices flowing!
The physical benefits of sex are numerous & are proven to relieve stress & tension. Sex and positive physical contact lower our stress response, produce oxytocin the body’s love hormone that makes you feel great & lead to numerous mental and emotional benefits and feelings of wellbeing. The challenge is that elevated stress reduces libido in both men and women making you feel less inclined to take part in the very thing that will assist you to unwind and relax. Simple awareness of this can help you overcome this challenge and get you reconnected again.
16. Getting Quality Sleep
A good night’s sleep is essential for all aspects of our health. Experts recommend 7-9 hours of quality un-interrupted sleep a night. Stress is very closely linked to difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. Everything seems much harder without a good nights rest and it can become a pretty vicious cycle that needs to be addressed.
If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep these tips may help:
- Get your heart rate up daily, preferably during the earlier part of the day
- Get outdoors and get sunlight in to your retina for 10 minutes, ideally near midday
- Have a varied diet – ‘Eat the Rainbow’
- Avoid watching television or other screens (big or small) within two hours of bedtime
- Go to bed and wake at the same time each day
- Write in a journal to let go of mental clutter
- Use a winding down routine which may include; a herbal tea, PJs and bathrobe, quiet reading time, hand massage, calm music, thankful writing, deep diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation.
- Ensure your bedroom is dark and cool – approximately 18 degrees C is an ideal temperature for sleep.
If you’re after ongoing support for yourself or your team at work, I have a complete Overcome the Overwhelm 8-module programme designed to super-charge productivity and boost resilience so you can thrive.
Also, be sure to watch Matthew Walker’s 2019 TED Talk “Sleep is Your Superpower” for more amazing reasons why prioritising your sleep is so essential for your health and longevity.
I also recommend this video from Dr Mike Evans “The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Stress” in which he actually mentions not just one but several strategies for dealing with stress including
• Simplicity and
• Directing Your Thoughts
And also this short video of mine on “Letting Go” which teaches you the principle of “musts and horribles” and how to shift your thinking to let go of stress and worry.
What are the best strategies you’ve found to reduce stress and maintain balance? Comment below to let me know your thoughts…
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