Our bodies are designed to respond to stress, but chronic and long-term stress can take its toll on physical and mental health.
Tag Archive for: Stress Management
Taking time for yourself may seem like a luxury, but self-care is an important aspect of good mental health.
Everyone agrees: Stress is terrible. It’s the thing that keeps you awake at night and unable to enjoy your day. Sometimes stress helps us prioritize the things that need doing now, but more often than not, it’s a terrible feeling that sucks the life out of you. At its worst, stress can increase your chances of heart attack, harm your immune system, decrease sexual function, and wreck your digestive system. Stress can come from your work, your personal life, or your environment, and it can manifest in a multitude of (not great) ways.
Battling stress is a part of caring for yourself and your body. How do you get out from under the crushing weight of stress and get your life back on track?
The Art of Self-Care
The best way to combat stress is to practice the art of self-care. Self-care can be hard for a lot of people, especially those with busy lives who are used to putting work and the needs of others ahead of their own needs. Moms are especially prone to struggling with putting themselves first. Self-care is as much a part of thriving as eating and sleeping. It’s caring for yourself mentally, replenishing that spring of mental wellness and energy so that you’re able to do the things you need to do. When you’re busy, schedule time for self-care the way you would a doctor’s appointment.
So what counts as self-care? Anything that leaves you happy, satisfied, and rejuvenated: massages, time spent with a friend or romantic partner, watching a movie you enjoy, or anything that makes you laugh. Examine the things that make you genuinely happy and fulfilled, and when you find yourself lagging, indulge.
Practice Changing the Way You Think
Getting out of a funk is hard to do. When you’re super stressed, it’s easy to fall into a black hole of negative thinking. Practice changing the way you think. If you’re plagued by negative thoughts, flip them around into something positive. It’s hard to do, especially when you feel buried by worry. The more you practice, the more you’ll lean towards positive thinking naturally. You’ll be happier in the long run.
Kick Social Media
There’s a ton of evidence that social media is bad for us. Deleting Facebook from your phone, or drastically reducing your time on Facebook, can lower your cortisol levels (that’s the hormone associated with stress). Increased cortisol can lower your immune system, encourage obesity, and impair memory. Excessive social media use has been linked with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot to put up with just to see what your cousin had for lunch.
Take a 24-hour break from all the noise and pressure from social media. If your hands are still twitching to use your phone, replace Insta with an app designed to help you reduce stress and anxiety. Some apps walk you through mindfulness or meditation. Others help you breathe, or they play soothing sounds.
Take Care of Your Body
There’s definitely a connection between mind and body — just ask anyone who has experienced being hangry. When you’re stressed, taking care of your body can absolutely help get you back to balanced. If you’re working under a deadline, you might be tempted to forgo eating healthy for something quick, like vending machine food. Sugar bursts and crashes can exacerbate stress. Take some time to eat food that will give you energy without burning out quickly, like protein.
Physical activity can help you work through feelings of stress. It’s as simple as taking a quick walk to clear your head. A walk can help you calm down, catch your breath, and head back into a stressful job or project with a much clearer head.
Sleep is a powerful tool to relax and unwind. Follow practices that lead to a good night’s rest:
- Don’t eat before bed
- Give yourself time to settle
- Prime your bed for comfortable sleep
- Keep distractions or stimulating objects (like your cell phone) far away from your bed.
Like a lot of the other suggestions in this article, they’re small changes. Those small changes can lead to a big difference in your life — one that will leave you more relaxed, fulfilled, and able to take on your goals with increased gusto.
Do you ever feel less energized, motivated or happy during the winter months? If you do, you aren’t the only one. Many people’s moods and feelings are affected by the amount of sunshine and vitamin D they receive. “Some studies suggest an association between low vitamin D levels in the blood and various mood disorders, including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)” says Mayo Clinic.
There are over three million cases per year of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a mood disorder that occurs around the same time every year. SAD most often occurs during the fall and winter, but it can also occur during the spring and summer.
SAD can cause people to feel moody, gain weight, crave carbohydrates, lack focus and feel more tired even if they are sleeping more. Even if you don’t meet the qualifications of being officially diagnosed, getting enough sunlight is still important to your overall mood.
In previous years, I would always notice these types of symptoms begin to flare as fall turned to winter. In order to prevent my normal winter blues, I began to go for walks or runs around my neighborhood for 30 minutes a few times each week. I even went for walks when it was snowing, so that I didn’t remain inside for too long.
Since I started doing this, I began to not notice the drop in mood, focus and energy that I had been associating with winter for years. Not only that, but I also felt better overall. Below are some of the other health benefits to spending time outside even when it’s cold:
Less Stress and Anxiety
There is something innately relaxing —for most people—about spending time in the great outdoors. It gives you the chance to bring yourself into the present, sending your anxious thoughts out of your mind for a little while. Taking time to clear your head has lasting effects on your overall stress and anxiety levels. Also, studies have shown that certain scents within nature, such as jasmine, pine and lilacs have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
Stronger immune system
Vitamin D is a critical nutrient to how our body maintains a healthy and strong immune system. The easiest way to get this vital nutrient is by spending time soaking in the sun.
When we are breathing fresh air amongst plants and trees, we are also breathing in phytoncides. These are airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves. This natural chemical contains qualities that are meant to help fight off disease.
Spending a lot of time inside can alter our circadian rhythms and throw off our sleep schedule. Being exposed to sunlight in the morning helps recalibrate these cycles, so that we sleep better at night and feel more energized during the day.
The urban environments we are accustomed to constantly drain our attention spans. Between cell phones, traffic jams, crowding and noise, are brains need a break every once in a while. “Using too much directed attention can lead to what they call “directed attention fatigue” and the impulsivity, distractibility and irritability that accompany it. The inherent fascination of nature can help people recover from this state” research from the American Psychological Association shows. Spending time focusing on the nature that surrounds us allows our brains to rest, which in turn helps us to focus better later.
If you are worried about being cold, dress the way you would if you were a kid on a snow day: wear layers, gloves, a scarf, a hat, etc. Or do a form of exercise that will get your blood pumping and warm you up. You can also bring a hot beverage along with you for your activity. Especially on a sunny day, preparing for the cold can be manageable.
Looking for ideas to get started? Here are my 10 favorite things to do outside:
- Walk around a lake or park
- Find a cozy spot outside to read
- Eat lunch outside
- Play Frisbee with a friend
- Go for a run around my neighborhood
- Hike a trail
- Ice skate at the outdoor rink
- Borrow (and make sure to return!) a friend’s dog and go to a dog park
- Get a group together to play capture the flag (or any other game)
- Go on a ski trip!
Whoever this anonymous person is, he or she got it right: “I’ve never found time spent amongst nature to be a waste of time.”
By Laura Greenstein