Stress is a natural part of life. Family and professional obligations, to-do lists, deadlines, and a half a dozen other small stuff just keep coming. When your body is not set up for success, your body’s natural alarm system – the “fight or flight” response – gets stuck in the ‘on’ position, where it impacts not just your mental state, but also your internal systems at a cellular level.
Use these 7 powerful strategies to get a handle on stress. They’re powerful, because they work. They might not be easy, but they’re totally worth it.
- Feed your body right – incorporate stress-busting foods rich in vitamin C, like oranges and grapefruits, and foods like salmon and nuts, which are high in Omega-3s. Adding complex carbs, like whole-grains or oatmeal, stabilize blood sugar and can help you feel not only more balanced, but they also increase levels of serotonin – a brain chemical that has a calming effect. If you feel fatigued or are having headaches often, try some spinach or cooked soybeans to increase your magnesium levels. Get enough potassium to reduce high blood pressure by adding avocados to your diet. Have a glass of warm milk to ease anxiety and to help you sleep. Yep, it really works.
- Limit stimulants – Avoid turning to alcohol, caffeine, tobacco or other drugs to try and relieve your stress – instead of relieving the stress and allowing your body to return to a relaxed state, these substances actually keep your body in a stressed state and lead to more problems.
- Breathe – Use deep breathing to bring down your heart rate and blood pressure, and to lower stress hormone levels. Take four deep breaths – each time fill your lungs through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, then release through your mouth. Imagine this is getting all the stale, stuffy air out of the body. Then try slow, four-part breaths through the nose. For example; inhale, pause, exhale and pause. Make sure you have plenty of room for the breath. It should always be comfortable and satisfying.
- Meditate for a few minutes each day. Find a quiet place where you are comfortable. Focus your mind on your breathing, an object, or a specific word or phrase (mantra). If you find that distractions or thoughts are intruding, send those thoughts to a place where you can choose to address them later and bring your focus back to the breath.
- Get moving! Exercise regularly to calm your mind, lower stress hormones, and trigger the release of endorphins while boosting oxygen circulation throughout your body. This relieves stress and releases mood stimulating chemicals. Try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic training three to four times a week. Try to choose forms of cardio that are fun or at least non-stressful for you to get to. Incorporate Tai Chi and yoga for relaxation and for calming the mind. These forms of exercise should feel like moving meditation.
- Positive Positioning – If you’re having a hard time getting into a good mood because of how ‘stressed out’ you are feeling, try surrounding yourself by your most positive friends to help keep negativity at bay. Researchers have found that ‘emotional contagion’ is what happens when you ‘catch’ someone’s positive attitude because of exposure and proximity. The opposite is true, too, of ‘catching’ a negative attitude. Limit your exposure to negativity by making a conscious choice to ‘keep it positive.’ Stay away from energy vampires. After my cancer diagnosis, I got rid of all the so-called friends who tended to draw from my energy and not contribute anything positive in return. We can’t fix everybody, nor should we try. We’re all here to learn how to grow in a positive direction.
- Add enjoyment and laughter to your day-to-day – incorporate hobbies that make you happy. Read a book or your favorite magazine, paint, draw, play a sport, spend time with others, listen to upbeat music, create someting… just find something that puts a smile on your face and make time for doing it at least a few times a week. Turn off the news! I had to put that in there for me. I’m so glad my husband turned me on to Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. I love dancing, but due to a traumatic foot injury, I can’t teach dance exercise classes anymore. This helps bring dance back into my life. Bottom line: invest in your happiness.