A large majority of adults say they experience stress and anxiety on a daily basis. Stress is the body and mind’s normal reaction to the demands of life. Situational stress (eustress) can actually be beneficial, motivating you to perform well or stay active. When stress becomes intolerable or unbearable, however, it turns into a negative form called distress. Distress can lead to insomnia, irritability, anxiety and depression.
The brain is actually hard-wired with an “alarm system” to help protect you from stressful situations. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release hormones such as adrenaline. Your heart rate increases and your blood pressure rises, triggering the “fight-or-flight” response.
Once the threat is gone, your body should return to its normal, relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop complications and fast-paced way of today’s world means that some people’s alarm systems rarely shut off. The pressures of parenting, combined with work and social demands, can create chronic stress. Chronic stress can lead to serious mental and physical health problems.
Before the serious and negative effects of stress take their toll on your wellbeing, there are actions – mentally, physically and socially – that you can take toward relieving stress in your everyday life.
Improve Your Mental Wellbeing
Be kind to yourself
Everyday stress – from work, from home and even from your own mind – can cause anxiety if not handled properly. There are daily practices that you can undertake to learn how to be kinder and gentler to yourself.
Adjust your standards
Stop trying to be everything to everyone. Nobody really is perfect and that’s ok. When you lower your own expectations, you relieve stress that you put on yourself. Make frozen pizza once in a while or leave minor cleaning tasks undone – no one will care.
If you are stressed out about being home with a sick child, you have a deadline at work and nothing in the kitchen for dinner – switch your way of thinking. Use it as an opportunity to bond with your child, maybe get some housework done and enjoy take-out or a delivered meal. As for work, there’s always tomorrow!
Practice positive self-talk
It’s very easy to become negative and get down on yourself when you are stressed. It is very important, however, to teach yourself and practice reassuring self-talk. Use phrases such as, “I will get through this” or “This feeling will pass” or “I made a mistake, but I will be ok” to help get you through anxious moments.
De-clutter your mind
Just like when you organize your cupboards or clean out closets each season, you need to de-clutter your mind. The more you have on your mind, the more stress you cause yourself. The best way is to make lists and prioritize. There is something very satisfying and relaxing about crossing off finished tasks. Delegating – whether it is with coworkers or family members – is another way to get things off your own mind and on to other people’s to-do lists. Managing your time better also helps to relieve stress. Lump together similar errands, plan doctor visits in one day and group phone calls. Efficiency is a great stress reliever.
Teach yourself to relax
Stress and anxiety can cause our stomachs to ache and our hearts to race. One way that you can activate the relaxation response is by decreasing your heart rate with deep breathing techniques. In fact, one of the best stress-relieving tools is our own deep breathing. Try this recommended three-part yogic breathing technique:
- Exhale fully and then inhale through your nose.
- As you breathe in, extend your stomach and rib cage and lift your chest.
- Exhale from the top, relaxing your chest, contracting your ribs and pulling your naval back toward your spine. Repeat several times, creating a smooth flow.
When you focus on breathing, you bring more oxygen into your body, which calms you down.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is also an effective process for stress management. You can even combine deep abdominal breathing with PMR for better results. PMR helps you become familiar with the sensations of tension and relaxation, so you can learn to recognize how tensing up when you are stressed is counterproductive.
The source of your stress is usually in your mind – constant worry, busy thoughts, fears and emotional pain. When you practice focused meditation, you can quiet your mind and reduce stress. Take time out in your day – even if it’s for just five minutes – to close your eyes, relax and meditate. Learn more with these meditation techniques offered by the Mayo Clinic.
Improve Your Physical Wellbeing
Almost everyone knows that exercise is one of the best ways to improve physical health, but it is also important for your mental health. A regular exercise routine can help reduce stress and increase mood. It may even work better than medication for stress management. When we exercise, we release endorphins that trigger positive emotions and a happier outlook. Just 30 minutes of walking each day can reduce stress and boost your mood.
One of the best forms of stress management is yoga. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines that may help you achieve peacefulness of body and mind. This can help you relax and manage stress and anxiety.” There are many different forms of yoga and different exercises that go along with the practice. Look for yoga studios in your area or go online for exercises and poses you can do at home.
One such exercise, called “Viparita Karani” (Legs Up the Wall), can get you started: With your torso and spine on the ground, place your bottom against a wall. Extend your legs up the wall so they are perpendicular to the floor at a 90-degree angle. Hold the pose anywhere from 10 deep breaths to 15 minutes, depending on how you feel.
When you have limited time, but need to de-stress, try this five-minute, five-pose yoga sequence.
Get more sleep
Not too many people feel great after a rough or interrupted night’s sleep. Many emotional disorders can occur from disrupted and poor sleep habits. Losing just a few hours of sleep each night can increase feelings of stress, anger and sadness. For a list of recommended hours of sleep and tips for healthy ways to increase your sleep, check out the National Sleep Foundation’s website.
Just like exercise, good nutrition is not only beneficial for physical health, but can also help reduce stress levels. A few are listed below, but click here for more stress-relieving superfoods.
- Salmon – it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, which may help in stress and anxiety relief by promoting brain health.
- Dark chocolate – it may help due to its stress-reducing antioxidants and ability to increase serotonin levels.
- Yogurt – it contains probiotics for gut health, which may have a positive effect on anxiety levels.
- Green tea – it contains L-theanine and EGCG, which can promote brain health and reduce stress and anxiety.
Try natural remedies for stress relief
For many people, taking prescription anti-anxiety medications for stress relief is either not necessary or not desirable. There are many options when it comes to using natural stress relievers, especially when your stress level is manageable but in need of help at times.
- Certain herbs can help reduce stress naturally. They are known as adaptogens because of their adaptive properties and ability to respond well to stressful environments in nature. These herbs, when taken orally, have the same effect on humans. They can help improve the negative impact of stress on the immune system.
- Supplements such as magnesium and B vitamins are helpful for stress reduction. B vitamins are known as the “anti-stress” vitamins. Take an over-the-counter blend of B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 every morning, especially during periods of high stress.
- Essential oils not only entice the senses, many of them are powerful aromatherapy tools for stress and anxiety relief.
- CBD Oil has been very beneficial in treating stress and anxiety. Ready my article, 7 Health Benefits and Uses of CBD Oil.
Improve Your Social Wellbeing
We are social animals, and having people around who care for and support us is essential to our social wellbeing. Besides stress relief, there are many health benefits to social wellness. During times of stress, however, it is very important to have a strong, trusted social network to help navigate through adverse life events.
Communicate with friends and family members on a regular basis
These are people who know you best and have been with you during the best and worst times. When you need emotional support and stress relief, ask for their help. Don’t forget to reciprocate when they need support.
Join groups and volunteer
If it doesn’t create more stress, reach out to like-minded people who may be able to help relieve and make you forget about your everyday stress. While you socialize, work on crafts or discuss books it gives you a chance to break away and gain new perspective. Volunteering can also be a way to help you relax and create a wider social network.
Know when to say no
Social wellbeing doesn’t mean that you always have to be social. Learn to recognize when you are taking on too much. You may think you are disappointing people if you turn down donating to the bake sale or say no to managing the little league team. If you are a happier, more relaxed person then your family and friends will benefit much more from your decision to say no.
Talk to a pastor, counselor or doctor
When your stress has turned into full blown feelings of anxiety and/or depression, seek help from a professional. Your doctor, pastor or counselor can provide additional support and resources to help you manage your stress and anxiety.
For further information about stress that leads to anxiety, CalmClinic, an online resource with reviewed, researched and medically accurate content, has compiled a Complete Anxiety Guide with over 400 pages of detailed and specific information.