Reduce Stress Using These 7 Tips
Three years ago, I left my high paying, stressful, unfulfilling job – after 28 years. I was so excited to have some downtime! I could sleep in, work in the yard, hike, walk my dog, travel, and paddleboard to my heart’s content! And I did! And I loved it! Yet, my body was still so tight and tense, as if I were still working that high stress job with that awful commute. I was thinking, “I’m supposed to be relaxed now. Fat and happy, so to speak. What is going on here?” I went about my daily non-working routine, as well getting my usual chiropractic adjustments and twice monthly massages. But I was beginning to wonder if I was always going to feel this way. I was too young to be so brittle and stiff!
Then, it happened. Magically. A solid 6 months after leaving my job, the tension in my shoulders was gone. Poof – gone! Both the chiropractor and massage therapist commented that my body was finally relaxed. The tension was finally gone, and I was in complete alignment. No more hunched shoulders and tense muscles. Yay! But why did it take so long?
After so many years of stress and computer work, I realized my body didn’t know how to relax- it literally had to be retrained to relax. My shoulders didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be hunched up around my ears. My trapezius muscles felt like rocks under the skin. My scalp was so tight around the skull that if felt like somebody always had a hold of the nape of my neck. My jaw was tight, and my teeth hurt from grinding them at night. Not to mention that big 11 between my eyebrows from the constant scowl of stress and pain. I was a stress mess! I needed time to practice relaxing, unclenching, clearing my mind, resting, and breathing deeply. So, don’t give up if you fail to feel more relaxed right away. Keep working at it!
Stress is a necessary human condition. It’s part of the ‘fight or flight’ response that helps us make decisions in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. We need this stress response to survive as human beings, but unrelenting stress is dangerous. In addition to the physical effects, long term stress can negatively affect mental health (depression, anxiety, and personality disorders), and cause cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke.
There are numerous ways to reduce stress, but not all methods work for everybody. Find something that does work for you and do it! If you consistently apply the following tips, you will likely have a greater sense of calm and increased capacity to face the challenges of daily life without hitting your stress limit.
Here are a few basic things you can do to manage your stress and avoid the dangers of a relentless stress level.
- Get plenty of rest. Emotional and physical fatigue make any situation much worse. If you’re unable to get a good night’s rest, ask how we can help you sleep better. 7 to 8 hours is a rule for most adults.
- Exercise. If you don’t go to the gym regularly, you can still set up an exercise plan at home without fancy equipment. Walk, stretch, do some yoga. There are many exercise routines online, including yoga and stretching you can do as an online class or on your own. A quick Google or You Tube search can pull up a plethora of options to try. It will be easy to find something that aligns with your individual health and tolerance. Give it a try!
Side note: Poor sleep tends to lead to less exercise, so these two habits can support each other. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity every day or even just go for a quick walk to get those endorphins going.
- Get outdoors. A brisk walk, outside in the fresh air, can make a significant difference in stress levels and mood. Work in the yard for a bit. Throw the ball/toy for the dog. Take a bike ride. Sit in the sun and read a book. Whatever you choose, make sure you unplug from digital distractions while doing it. If you can’t get outdoors, open a window and get up and move around inside. Walk the stairs, clean a room, declutter your space…get off the couch and move your body.
- Eat right. It’s not uncommon for people to turn towards ‘comfort food’ when they feel stressed. Although it might make us feel better in the moment, it will likely make things worse in the long run. Too much sugar will spike your blood sugar, then it will plummet, leaving you tired and more stressed than you were before. And an overfull stomach may cause discomfort.
- Stay away from alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. If you’re super stressed or depressed, alcohol will ultimately make these feelings worsen. Alcohol also depletes antioxidants, diminishes liver functioning and promotes weight gain, all of which can create additional stress on your body. You can easily end up in a vicious cycle with this one; best to avoid altogether when stressed or depressed.
- Turn off the news and unplug from social media. Although it is important to stay abreast of current events, it is also important to limit the time spent watching the news, especially during a time of crisis. Allot yourself time to check the news daily, then turn it off and do something else to help lessen your stress. Read a book, write a letter, get outside (see above). Do not check the news, social media or other outside influences first thing in the morning. Make sure you get your day started in positive, intentional ways before allowing other sources to set your agenda and focus.
- Try meditation or prayer. Meditation and prayer have been shown to help with the body’s stress response. Taking some time to do a calming breathing exercise or praying can help the body relax. This can be a great way to start or end the day with a relaxed state of mind.
When you acknowledge the stresses of life, you can keep them in control instead of them controlling you. Avoid becoming the ‘stress mess’ that I was so you can live your best life!