10 Simple Strategies to Manage Stress
If not managed properly, stress can have an overwhelming effect on our bodies. Most of us know that stress isn’t good for us, but we may not understand just how deeply stress can affect us.
Studies have shown that stress affects every aspect of our lives. Stress has a negative effect on memory, and chronic stress has been proven to atrophy parts of the brain. It has also been shown to lower your cognitive abilities—the longer and more sustained the stressors, the worse the impact on your mental cognition. Beyond the brain, stress also impacts your immune response, cardiovascular functioning, gastrointestinal functioning, and endocrine system.
It should come as no surprise that with all these negative effects, stress also has a negative impact on the aging process. Studies have shown that these negative effects combined with the shorter telomeres in cells of all types that are associated with chronic stress accelerate the aging process.
All these negative effects mean one thing—stress negatively affects us physically, depletes us emotionally, and drains us of our ability to focus and be productive.
Finding ways to manage stress is something that most people must deal with nowadays. If you take small, actionable steps every day, you can manage your stress, mitigate the negative effects of stress on your body, and slow down your body’s aging process.
These 10 tips to alleviate your stress response will help you stay healthy.
Make a change
It can be difficult to eliminate certain stressors from life—work, money, parenting, and studying are some of the top reasons Canadians are stressed. These aren’t things that you can remove from your life, but you can try to change how to react to those stressors.
Are you struggling with stress because of your workload? Speak to your manager about adjusting your responsibilities. Are you having a stress reaction every time you look at your bank account? It may be time to work with a financial advisor and stick to a budget. Adjusting how we react to the stressors in our life can make a positive impact on our stress levels.
When we’re stressed, we should increase self-care, but most of us do the exact opposite. We skimp on sleep, eat poorly, drink more alcohol, and forego exercise. When stress is at its peak, this is when you need to step back, take time for yourself, and do something that nourishes your body and your mind.
Self-care looks different for everyone, but during times of high stress, it is important to prioritize taking care of yourself. Whether it's spending time on the treadmill, reading a book, or preparing healthy meals, do whatever brings you joy and helps you step away from whatever is causing you to be stressed.
Exercise releases endorphins (the “feel-good” chemical) and is the best stress reliever around. Get that heart rate up for half an hour at least five days a week. Exercise is the best medicine to fight stress, especially as you age. (pdf) So lace up your sneakers and go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, or participate in whatever physical movement you like!
Get enough sleep
Sleep and stress have an interesting relationship. When you are stressed out, your sleep suffers. And when your sleep suffers it can cause stress. A study conducted by Health Canada found that 36.3% of adults who get insufficient sleep report having chronic stress compared to 23.2% of adults who get adequate sleep. It can be a vicious cycle if you don’t find a way out of it.
It all comes down to getting enough sleep each night. This varies for everyone, but experts suggest adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. If you are struggling to get enough sleep, good sleep hygiene is a great place to start. Try these tips from Health Canada:
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine before bed
- Maintain a regular bedtime/waketime
- Practice relaxation and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques
- Reduce noise in the sleeping environment
- Exercise regularly
- Review medications with your physician/pharmacist regularly
Food fuels your body, and the higher quality of the fuel, the better your body will run. Eat nutritious food and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and healthy.
You can also practice “mindful eating” to avoid falling into a pattern of stress eating. When you sit down for a meal or a snack, do so with the intention of eating your meal and enjoying it. Being mindful of what you are eating will help you make nutritious food choices, allow you to understand when you are eating for a reason beyond hunger and will give you better overall digestion!
Find ways to recharge
Take10-minute mini-breaks throughout the day. When you have a lot to do, you may be tempted to power through. But short, frequent breaks actually enhance productivity by making you feel clearer and more focused. Meditate for a few minutes, go for a walk at lunch, or do some stretches at your desk.
Set specific goals
Instead of saying “I should eat better,” promise yourself to bring a healthy lunch to work every day. Rather than trying to get more rest, say you’ll turn the lights out by 11:00 every night. And don’t just talk about exercising more. Book a class or make a standing date with a running buddy.
Setting specific goals helps to make them more attainable.
Being actively grateful adds positivity to your life. Write down three good things every day—it will surprise you how great something so simple can feel.
Just say no
Taking on too much will only add to your stress. When we say yes to everyone, we end up saying no to our well-being. It can be hard to say no—especially if you are in the habit of taking on too much to please others. Try to think of it as saying yes to your mental and physical well-being instead of saying no to someone.
Our brains spend a lot of time focusing on the past or the future. But there’s something incredibly soothing about just being in the present. Studies have shown that those who practice mindfulness have a significant reduction in their perceived stress.
Try a guided meditation, or just work on really noticing your breath moving in and out of your body. Focus on the little details of life, from the texture of your food to the sound of the wind in the trees.
Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.