No doubt we live in stressful times. Political and social unrest and a pandemic are piling on top of the normal stresses of daily life. Undue stress can lead to insomnia, fatigue, headaches, depression, and serious medical conditions.
If you feel severely overwhelmed, it might be wise to consult a doctor. But there are six simple ways to combat stress on your own.
1. Go Outside and Take a Breath
Researchers know a breath of fresh air cleanses contaminants from your lungs. They also know your brain uses about 20% of the oxygen you take in, so the more air you get, the better your mind functions – and that makes you think more clearly and have a better state of mind. A little time in the sunshine also enhances your serotonin level – that’s a “feel good” hormone. Studies show a boost of serotonin in the mornings helps you sleep better at night.
You don’t have to run a marathon or spend hours on a stationary bike, but a reasonable amount of exercise will reduce stress. This can be as simple as a morning walk or a couple of hours of gardening. Exercise releases endorphins – another of those “feel good” hormones. The concentration involved in exercise also takes your mind off the things that are stressing you out.
3. Commune With Nature
Being around plants alleviates stress. A little time in the backyard can help, and studies show having plants in your house reduces physiological and psychological stress. Plants stimulate positive reactions in brain activity, muscle tension, and heart activity. Some plants help you sleep better and indoor plants have the added benefit of cleaning toxins from the air.
4. Be Wary of Alcohol and Caffeine
Some people reach for a drink in times of stress. Alcohol releases hormones that can give you short-term euphoria. But liquor is a central nervous system depressant, and too much of it actually increases stress and anxiety. Even something as benign as coffee can lead to problems. A cup of coffee in the morning or in the middle of the day can improve your mood, but three or four cups can have the opposite effect because caffeine contains cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone. The same is true of sugar. In stressful times the old adage “all things in moderation” takes on added importance.
5. Eat Healthy
Most of us have heard this sermon all our lives, but a healthy diet is especially important in stressful times. That same hormone, cortisol, can be activated by stress, which gives the body an energy boost and a craving for foods that are high in fats and sugars. Giving in to this craving can lead to ailments ranging from heart disease and obesity to insomnia and depression. A balanced diet of essential vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats will keep your cortisol level in check.
Methods of relaxation can vary, and for many people relaxing means hitting the couch and turning on the TV. But to really reduce stress, you must go into a deep state of rest, which lowers your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Some common techniques include meditation, yoga, and tai chi. Experiment until you find what works for you. Once you do, devote 10 to 20 minutes a day to it. Smartphone apps and smartwatches can help you track your progress.
Stress is an insidious affliction that can take hold without you knowing it. Keep an eye out for signs such as headaches, insomnia, restlessness, and abnormal fatigue. If you think you might be a victim, be proactive and take steps to reduce it.
Jennifer Li is a vegan, physical therapist, and yoga instructor who writes about spiritual and wellness issues for both humans and their companions.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.